May 5, 1999 | By: Haven Miller

For communities wanting to retain and expand existing businesses, listening is critically important. That's the idea behind the Kentucky Economic Expansion Program, aptly called "KEEP" for short.

"KEEP often involves a survey that helps community leaders listen to concerns and learn about issues that are important to local businesses," said Rick Maurer, assistant director for rural and economic development in the UK Cooperative Extension service.

UK co-sponsors KEEP with Bell South and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Representatives from these organizations work with community leaders who express interest in implementing the program to help meet local needs.

"KEEP is a complementary strategy to business recruitment," said Maurer. "We're saying 'yes, it's good to recruit new businesses,' but we're also saying that communities need to keep existing businesses from moving away. Two-hundred new jobs created by a new company has reduced impact if two hundred jobs recently left the area with a company that relocated."

According to Maurer, local KEEP volunteers visit individually with businesses. A locally-developed questionnaire helps bring to light issues such as relationships with local government, quality of the workforce, transportation, and so-called "red flag" concerns that need immediate attention. Because KEEP involves local agencies and leaders, it adapts to the specific needs of participating communities.

"It's very locally driven, and one of its key components is the follow-up that happens after the survey and final report are completed," said Julie Zimmerman, community development specialist in the UK College of Agriculture. "KEEP is unique in that, in addition to addressing needs and concerns of the manufacturing sector, it also addresses issues facing the retail sector and agriculture."

"KEEP helped us provide information from our farmers on their opinions and concerns over how our county was growing and being developed," said Lynn Witt, president of the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce. "We also conducted a retail and wholesale phase, and I think each group appreciated that people sat down and talked to them and asked them their opinion. Much of that information is being put to use in our comprehensive plan."

For the manufacturing sector, KEEP helps broaden relationships between companies and local leaders, and can foster stability and growth.

"I think it verified some things we had been addressing as being important, and opened our eyes to some things we hadn't thought about," said Kathy Schlegel, director of the Logan County Economic Development Commission. "KEEP allows the community to be responsive to those who provide employment, and allows us to better understand what makes our employers tick and what makes them successful."

As a participating partner along with Bell South and the Cabinet for Economic Development, UK Cooperative Extension offers training for volunteers, data analysis of the survey, and a written report of survey results. Local, on-site participation often is coordinated by UK's Cooperative Extension agents who live in the county.

"Our survey in Russell County involved 27 manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, and more than 70 volunteers," said Linda Stephens, Extension agent for family and consumer science. "Participants learned about a vital segment of the business community, and KEEP was an image-building opportunity for our chamber of commerce."

"The KEEP program enabled us to listen to our companies and get their ideas on not only things that would help their company, but also the county," said Charles Smith, Russell County Judge Executive. "The program gave our county the opportunity to be involved in issues that we may never have known about without the survey."

KEEP is funded by cash contributions and in-kind community support with assistance from sponsoring partners. Additional sponsors and participants include regional state universities, utility companies, and participating communities.

Contact: 

Writer: Haven Miller
(606) 257-3784

Source: Rick Maurer
(606) 257-7582