Leadership Visit 2017

Tuesday, October 24

Overview of Lexington

About 70 individuals left Columbia early Tuesday from Central Missouri Aviation on a chartered flight. Everyone landed in Lexington and hit the ground running. Within an hour of landing, the group was taken directly to downtown Lexington where they heard from the chair of Commerce Lexington, Carla Blanton. Blanton gave the group an overview of Lexington and some of the issues the community is facing. Blanton said the economy consists of an extremely diverse set of industries. There is not one particular industry type that costs of more than 17% of the workforce.

Blanton said one of the biggest issues they’re facing right now is there is little available land for businesses to grow and expand. Blanton said they “are out of room.” She explained there’s some tension within local government entities about how to go about it, but they’re actively trying to work it out and get solutions as soon as possible.

Welcome from Mayor Gray

Lexington Mayor, Jim Gray, officially welcomed Columbia to Lexington. He talked about what’s in the city and explained how there is a vibrant community. Gray said the vibrant community is a huge selling point because the quality of life in any city with a major institution (University of Kentucky) is one of the most important factors to identify. He believes that’s because there is such a large influence on individuals to stay local and not only attend school, but live there long term.

Even with an amazing community, there are issues they’re facing. Gray said the biggest problem is with drugs, opioids in particular. He told the group this isn’t just an issue in the city, but in Appalachia.

Local Government Profile

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government was established in 1970 after lawmakers passed legislation to create such entities. This new style of government was established to streamline processes and make things simple. Essentially what this style of government is, is a merge of the City of Lexington and Fayette County. It eliminates powers of things like county and city entities,  county and city police city, and city and county schools.

The reasoning behind the merger was there were too many entities and it was a jurisdictional nightmare. Since it’s inception, things such as schools, streets, garbage, planning and zoning all have one place to go instead of several. The operational efficiency has increased dramatically.

As with almost everything, there are some negatives. The biggest that government leaders said was that there are 15 council members. This has created small districts with small amounts of constituents. Leaders said this has allowed small groups to have a large influence on major decisions.

Even nearly five decades after it’s establishment, there is still some tension between the city and county because there are still independently elected officials and different ideas between urban and rural settings. Topics like road funding and serwer issues have the widest gap in ideas.

Government leaders said most of its funding comes from payroll taxes. They say this is somewhat different than a lot of other communities where sales tax or property tax.

Land Use and Growth

The current issue with Lexington is that they haven’t been able to expand in nearly two decades because they don’t have any land to expand on. Government leaders said the issue is they need to get land in order to expand. The land that is available is privately owned and they aren’t willing to buy land unless the city owns it. That is the best way they can ensure they can control what’s developed. Government leaders are touting that if they can’t expand, there won’t be jobs that government with the payroll tax. Leaders said, “we can’t not grow.”

One way leaders are expanding are through strategic means. Everything they do is intentional and done for a reason. While growing and expanding is happening, they can’t afford to make a mistake. They said they’re at the point where they need to think hard about how to improve their infrastructure because when they do expand, the infrastructure is more than 100-years-old.

Roundtable Conversation

Education – City and county leaders recently built a state-of-the-art high school to deal with the influx of students coming into the district. Education leaders say they’re growing by more than 700 students each year.

Due to a recent audit, they’re making some major changes within the district. They have added things like new teacher inductions, executive leadership programs, superintendent leadership institute, district and school scorecards, classroom walkthroughs and introduce a state of the schools.

Even with the changes, the major thing is getting everyone to buy into the changes, They still need to implement things like working more with the community and families, but they’re working towards that.

Startup and Entrepreneurs  – Government leaders have put an emphasis on startups and small business. They said they’re doing everything they can to promote these companies to make people aware they’re in the community. By doing things similar to Columbia Bringing Up Business week, leaders believe this can get these companies to stay instead of moving to larger communities. The most important thing they do is to make sure they get these companies in Lexington before they make any sort of plans. Once they get them in the city, then the possibilities are endless.

Sports and Tourism – Instead of getting all of the events in the city as they can, leaders said knowing who their competition is, is more important than getting the events. They said there’s no reason why they would guarantee $25,000 for an event if they can use that money to create their own and earn even more than that. They said the biggest hurdle is getting events to the city that aren’t necessarily an interest to the state, but the nation.

Leaders said they need to do a better job at promoting the city when there is an event in town. They said when there are people in town, they need to make sure they sell the city to everyone to ensure they bring their events next time.

Wednesday, October 25

The second day of Leadership Visit 2017 started with a Lexington style breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Everyone was ready for the day to begin and wanted to get to the sessions as soon as possible.

Real Estate Market

There are some major issues affecting the real estate market. The biggest is available land for development. Real estate leaders say they conducted a study on projected population growth and there will need to be 22,000 more units built to address those needs. One concerning fact is home sales have decreased 2 percent, sales time decreased 33 percent and sales price has increased 8 percent. Right now, 2,500 sp. ft. homes are selling for about $300,000. Leaders said those are the units that are being built and unfortunately starter homes ($150,000 or cheaper) are not being built. In a nutshell, people are moving to Lexington, but available units are vanishing and more people are holding onto their investments longer. Finding a solution to this has become high on leaders priority lists because there is little to no area to build and expand. Leaders said if absolutely nothing is done, there will be no land to develop commercially or domestically by 2030.

The recession had a major impact on Lexington. They’re recovering sectors at-a-time, but the building of new homes have not. Another separate study was conducted to identify the availability to build homes. The study found there are only 89 acres to build on. Real estate leaders hope the update of the Urban Service Boundary in 2018 will help some, but there’s still much more that needs to be done. Until a solution is found, the only options they have left are to move people into condominiums, which aren’t family friendly or find and develop land, which they only have three years worth of land left.

Health Care in Lexington: Community Impact and Collaboration

A panel consisting of UK HealthCare, Baptist Health, MU Health Care and Boone Hospital talked about the importance of the healthcare in Lexington. Each hospital brings in millions of dollars to the economy each year. Even with hospitals being a large part of the local economy, things like urbanization of health care is killing rural hospitals. So the question the panel is trying to address is how they can fill those needs even more than they are.

Lexington health care leaders need to expand the care they provide, but the problem is there are candidate shortages. This isn’t a problem with just Lexington but across the country. Leaders said they need to accurately comes up with where those shortages are and address those specific issues. To take it to another level, they need to come up with creative ways to attract candidates. Doing things like finding jobs for spouses and “recruiting creatively” is the new normal. “Thinking outside the box” is becoming more important. It’s also important for hospitals to keep their employees rather than hire new employees. Hospital leaders said they are offering packages and options to employees to make sure they don’t leave.

Partnerships with non-profits are becoming more important by the year. Charities in Lexington rely on health care more than any other industry. People that come from health care donate tons of time and resources and the hospitals do a lot to support non-profits.

Leveraging Higher Education in the Community

Cities that have major universities like the University of Missouri of the University of Kentucky naturally reap the benefits of having these institutions in their communities. These cities tend to have things like unemployment numbers below the national average, more patents, more educated citizens and more entrepreneurs. These cities usually have lower violent crime rates, tons of non-profit organizations and their population grows at a faster rate. Everything happens similar to how it does in larger coastal cities. They are also rich in talent.

UK was asked to solve a problem of not having enough technically skilled workers. So leaders decided to train students similar to what technical school does. They created a work and learn program that gives students on the job training and showcases their skills to potential employers.

Thursday, October 26

Thriving Together

Commerce Lexington organized a community trip similar to the Chamber’s Leadership Visit to Charleston to see how the community faced adversity. They wanted to see how the community came back from it and what is being discussed in the home. The panel consisting of Chamber, city and activist groups said, “if there’s going to be change, someone needs to speak the truth of power.” Leaders said there’s a lot of tension within the Lexington community and paranoia of new people coming in. Police leaders say they’re trying to change the narrative of the police department and are getting to the youth. They want to make sure the education starts early in not only that police are here for their safety, but they’re here to make the community a great place to live. They say getting to children early will also help close the achievement gap.

Lessons Learned in the Past 50 Years: What Lexington Got Right and What It Got Wrong

In 1970, Lexington’s population was about the size of Columbia today. As they look back at how they got to where they are today, they talked to the group about what they did right and wrong.

One of the major issues facing Lexington is the amount of available space for development. It’s running out and will be completely exhausted in a few years. However, one of the panelists said what they need to start doing is talk regionally instead of locally.

One thing Lexington did right is keeping the focus on workforce development and education. Community leaders said as long as you have this, your community has potential to become stronger down the road.

Leaders said there were times decades ago they were too reluctant to face some issues or be proactive on certain things. That inaction set them back and times really passed them up. This caused them to lose some big companies.

Another thing they’ve lost out on was getting professional sports sooner. Lexington has a minor league baseball team named the Lexington Legends. They are an affiliate of the Houston Astros organization. Leaders say the city and other entities have missed out on millions of dollars by not partnering with the team earlier. Making decisions like whether to partner with a local affiliate or not can make a huge impact on the community.

Leaders say in the next 10 years there will be a huge change everywhere and you need to take advantage of opportunities when you can to position yourself and your community for long-term success.

One thing leaders said they have not done a good job at was talking with state lawmakers. They say they don’t have one caucus to talk to them with “one voice.” There are other communities in Kentucky that have done this and it has benefitted their communities immensely. With the way Kentucky legislature currently operates, there is a divide between rural and urban lawmakers. Leaders believe if Lexington has one voice, they may be able to get things like a sales tax established.


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