When Northwest Kentucky Forward publicly kicked off its “OpporUNITY 2016” investment campaign late Wednesday afternoon to raise money to run its regional economic development efforts over the next half-decade, it planned to announce some good news.
As dozens of area business and elected officials watched in a meeting room at the big Columbia Sportswear distribution center, a video announced that already, $1.85 million has been pledged toward the five-year $2.8 million goal.
At least, that was accurate as of 1 p.m. Wednesday.
But hours later, NWKF President and CEO Kevin Sheilley seized a microphone to announce an update: Thanks to last-minute pledges from Alliance Coal’s River View Mine in Union County and Henderson-based Ohio Valley Marine Services, the pledges had swelled to just over $2 million.
That’s nearly 72 percent of the campaign goal and almost as much as the total amount raised during NWKF’s first campaign in 2006.
But plenty of heavy lifting remains. The money pledged during the campaign’s “quiet period” came from big contributors with perhaps the most to gain from growing jobs and recruiting industries: Banks, local governments, utilities and construction companies.
To secure the next $800,000, campaign organizers will turn to numerous other potential investors in Henderson, Union, Webster and McLean counties: Retailers, insurance agents, construction companies, existing industries, law offices and others that benefit when the region’s economy grows.
The campaign will run through October.
“We need it,” Henderson banker and campaign chairman Doug Bell said. “We need to strive toward it and we can’t miss our goal.”
“It can be a profitable investment,” Deborah Gray, a local economic development agent for Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric who assists NWKF, told the community leaders. “ … This is an investment in our future. Think of Northwest Kentucky Forward as part of your development team, growing your market.”
Union County banker and NWKF Chairman Garland Certain recalled how the four counties came together five years ago to pool their resources and embrace a regional approach to economic development.
NWKF focuses on recruiting and promoting companies in five target industries: Aluminum, automotive, energy, logistics and prepared foods.
Some good news is coming.
“The governor will be here in about a month to announce job creation,” announced Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of NWKF.
But Sheilley said his organization has a broader vision than industrial recruitment.
“Our goal is to create wealth and opportunities for people and businesses of the region,” he said. “We decided to do it differently; you don’t find too many regional economic development groups in Kentucky.” NWKF is one of only three such multi-county groups in the state.
While NWKF does work to recruit new industries, Sheilley noted that it has a full-time manager of existing business, Meghan Crosman (she has succeeded Cj Maple, who retired last spring), whose job is to meet with and help existing industries with expansion and employee training.
“It’s important to bring in new companies,” Sheilley said. “It’s even more important to keep our existing businesses.”
NWKF also promotes education and work force training.
And it assists the start-up and expansion of small businesses through its partnership with Lexington-based non-profit Community Ventures Corp., which provides counseling and loans to entrepreneurs.
Over the next four months, prospective investors in the four counties can expect to hear from Mike Dimengo of Convergent Nonprofit Solutions, which is assisting NWKF in the OpporUNITY campaign.
“When Mike calls on you — he’ll call and make an appointment — please respond to him and make an investment,” Gray said.
Here is the “Honor Roll of Investors” that have made early pledges to Northwest Kentucky Forward:
City of Henderson
Henderson Co. Fiscal Court
Henderson Municipal Power and Light
Old National Bank
Rio Tinto Alcan
Union Co. Fiscal Court
Webster Co. EDC
Webster Co. Fiscal Court
McLean Co. Fiscal Court
Ohio Valley Financial Group
United Community Bank