GLASGOW – There is strength in numbers when it comes to recruiting industry to rural southcentral Kentucky.
The magical number is three and would involve Cumberland, Metcalfe and Monroe counties coming together to form a regional industrial authority. That's an idea Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, has pitched to officials in those counties.
“I've met with all three of their industrial boards and I've met with all three of the county judge-executives, and I've just kind of pitched the idea that they might be more successful working together rather than competing against each other for new job opportunities,” Rowland said.
So far, officials with each county have been receptive to the idea.
“There's been a lot of positive comments about it. Ultimately, it's going to be a decision that will be made by each of the three county judge-executives and their fiscal courts, but I've certainly been encouraging them to do something like that.”
There are other counties across the state that have formed regional industrial authorities. Rowland said he knows there are some in western Kentucky that have done just that, and thinks there may be some northern Kentucky counties that have done it as well.
Cumberland, Metcalfe and Monroe counties are three of 39 total Kentucky counties that are served by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal utility that is exempt from state and local property taxes.
Instead of paying property taxes, the TVA pays the state the equivalent of 5 percent of its gross sales. The state then returns about 70 percent of that money to local government entities and to school districts to make up for the loss in property tax revenue. Thirty percent of that money, however, remains in the state's general fund.
Rowland sponsored House Bill 114 in 2018 that established the TVA Regional Economic Assistance Fund, which calls for the return of 15 percent of the money that goes to the state's general fund back to local communities to help finance local economic development efforts.
The legislation calls for the 39 counties to receive $2 million from the state the first year, $4 million the second year and $6 million the third year.
“So the timing is good,” Rowland said. “I think if they decided to do something like this there's going to be enough money coming in to each of those counties that they can potentially pool a portion of that and reserve half or two-thirds to do their own economic development stuff back in their counties and still have some money to participate in a joint venture.”
Metcalfe County Judge-Executive Harold Stilts thinks the three counties working together to form a regional industrial development authority would work.
“Bart thinks it will be a great asset to the three counties to have a regional project, because you can generate more interest,” he said. “It was an interesting meeting and we are planning on in the future moving forward with it, once we get some stuff going together.”
Cumberland County Judge-Executive John Phelps said he thought the creation of a regional industrial authority would be a positive move for all three counties and would possibly allow all three to benefit from a large project.
“I think we will draw a lot more attention from the Kentucky Department of Economic Development as far as getting help,” he said.
The county officials have discussed ideas for purchasing land for a regional industrial site, but have not had any detailed discussion on it, Phelps said.
“I think that is something that would be to get into fairly quickly once we develop the industrial authority. We've got some leg work to do there as far as the responsibilities and how everybody is going to partake and benefit from it,” he said.
Monroe County Judge-Executive Mitchell Page is also supportive of the idea of a regional industrial authority.
“It's just getting everybody on the same page,” he said. “It's just working out the details.”
Page pointed out the three counties have little-to-no workforce on their own, but by joining together to form a regional industrial authority employees could be pulled from neighboring counties.
He also said a special taxing district specific to the industrial site would have to be created.
The money the counties receive from the state in lieu of taxes that are paid by the TVA cannot be used to pay the salary of an industry recruiter or fees charged by an individual or agency in luring industry and business to the counties, Rowland said.
To Rowland's knowledge, he said none of the three counties have employed an industry recruiter. The salary for such an individual would have come from some other funding source.