October 25, 2022 10:50am
Op-Ed: The Brink of Greatness: Changes that will help Louisville compete
This article originally appeared in Louisville Business First on October 22, 2022
Ask any two Louisville residents about their city and most likely you will hear various, mixed responses about what the city is known for.
When 120 business leaders returned from Jacksonville, Florida, for Greater Louisville Inc.’s annual GLIDE leadership visit, many leaders had a realization that consistent messaging is critically important to our city’s growth.
No matter who you asked in Jacksonville — the mayor, the head of economic development, and even an Uber driver — all shared the same message. Their region is growing by 100-plus people daily, downtown is thriving with residential development investment and they have established competitive advantages in financial technology, health care and manufacturing.
We know Louisville is already doing a lot of this same work, but we are not talking about it consistently.
Sharing our wins and telling our story
As the regional chamber and economic development organization, Greater Louisville Inc. is equipped to lead that messaging internally and externally. As we noted to attendees, we can create a
strong public-private partnership with a single front door and collective voice, so businesses, site selectors, and individuals know the opportunities Louisville offers.
We can tell our story in a bigger way by marketing with a unified brand, earning national recognition for regional successes in our target industries: health care, advanced manufacturing, logistics and technology.
The importance of storytelling and a unified vision was not the only takeaway from Jacksonville, but it was the foundation of their economic growth strategy. We must implement new tactics like an intense, focused marketing campaign to drive business, talent, and development to our region, creating more wins to share.
Local tax reform
Growth is only possible with investment. Jacksonville has leveraged small and incremental taxes to fund their largest projects. Currently, the Kentucky Constitution limits the mechanisms local municipalities can use to generate revenue.
Local tax reform requires a constitutional amendment via a ballot referendum. This was a top priority for GLI last session, with legislation to put the measure on the ballot in 2022 passing the House but not clearing the Senate.
In Jacksonville, local taxes funded infrastructure improvements that helped land more economic investment and education programs to prepare students for the workforce. Seeing these tangible investments re-energized the business community to get local tax reform over the finish line.
Equally important to funding is a pro-development mindset and zoning regulations that support growth. Jacksonville has rezoned and redeveloped its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Louisville will soon elect a new mayor, and both candidates have talked about streamlining planning and zoning.
Jacksonville reinforced that certainty and predictability for developers is critical for growth. Months of hearings and years-long processes are a major deterrent to investing developers. Each of us have a role to embrace development in our neighborhoods and talk about it favorably.
With relaxed regulations, there will be more opportunities to revitalize Downtown. Leaders in Jacksonville stated frequently “you cannot be a suburb of nowhere.”
They launched a residential-first strategy prioritizing mixed-use development requiring first floor retail with housing units. Louisville has an opportunity to provide more entertainment, retail, and residential options, expanding Downtown vibrancy beyond 9 to 5, and we must capitalize on it.
A critical element is affordable housing for emerging talent and intentionally inclusive development strategies.
An important initiative is already underway by LOUMED to create a medical and education district connecting four Downtown institutions. Through their new strategic plan, LOUMED is working
to create a welcoming environment for students, patients, and staff. GLI will support this momentum and efforts to secure investment in neighboring parts of our urban core.
Talent attraction and development
Finally, population growth is key. New jobs are irrelevant without qualified workers. GLI’s Live in Lou platform continues to bring new talent to the region, but we must also better tap into existing talent pools by getting students career-ready and keeping them in Louisville post-graduation.
The infrastructure is already in place through the Academies of Louisville, but we must start the engagement process earlier. Through an opportunity provided by GLI and the Truist Foundation, Jefferson County Public Schools is expanding this program into middle schools, offering students opportunities to explore their interests and aptitudes through YouScience., a national platform.
We have much work to do, but our trip to Jacksonville showed our ambitious goals are within reach. Over the next year, GLI will work closely with the business community and government to put these plans into action with the goal of raising our region’s national profile and taking our economy to new heights.
Condrad Daniels is president of HJI Supply Chain Solutions and chair of GLIDE JAX. Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is president and CEO and Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce.