SPEDA president and CEO Chris Girdler speaks about the local economy during the latest coronavirus update from Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley.

Chris Girdler, president and CEO for the Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA), was the guest for the Good Friday edition of Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley’s Facebook Live update on the local coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“As important as our safety is, and we want everybody to make it through this, we also need to be thinking long term about our economic development,” Judge Kelley said. 

Girdler acknowledged that this public health crisis is having a devastating effect on the economy as a whole, calling it a “double whammy” for our nation.

In addition to local government leaders, healthcare workers and first responders, Girdler paid tribute to the county’s business and industrial leaders. “They have worked diligently, come together as a team, and taken a lot of positive steps towards protecting their workforce,” he said, “whether that be in office spaces or factory settings. They have just done a remarkable job taking those proper steps, and that has come with the guidance of our wonderful health department and Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.”

Public health measures are vital, Girdler added before asserting that officials must be careful not to create an economic catastrophe in the process. “While we need to protect our most vulnerable, we also at the same time need to be looking at ways of allowing millions of healthy Americans to pursue the American Dream.”

Girdler said he’s confident the economy will bounce back, even if it occurs sequentially, and added that SPEDA is focused on working with community leaders to bring that about. As the current situation has been unfolding, the organization has been working behind the scenes with businesses as needed and distributing information as it comes. 

“The greatness of Somerset and Pulaski County is our people,” Girdler said. “While there’s no clear path right now to be able to restart this economy, it’s time we all start having those conversations and start looking at how that’s going to be done.…

“I think the next three months will be more important than the last two months,” he added, “figuring out ways in which our community heals and how we pull together to become stronger than ever.”

Another way SPEDA is helping is to release some money into the local economy through its mini-grant program — awarding four $2,500 grants to startup and/or expanding businesses. The awards are to be announced next Friday.

“It’s so important to have a diverse economy,” Girdler said. “We’ll continue to build an economy that’s resilient. 

As tourism is a major factor for the community, Girdler predicted that there will be a “flood” of visitors once travel restrictions are lifted. “I hope and pray that Lake Cumberland sees some record-breaking numbers going forward.”

Judge Kelley noted that many families that traditionally travel further out on vacation may this year decide to stay closer to home and drive to the lake. “We want to get there in a healthy manner; we want to make sure we can beat this virus…so that we can get back to somewhat a level of normalcy and hopefully in time for tourism season.”

Kelley and Girdler also spoke a bit about the county’s emergency operations center (EOC), with the judge noting that the EOC was luckily launched last fall before officials knew the pandemic was coming.

“We’re trying to get an accurate assessment of everything that’s needed so that we…can provide the needs of all these professionals that are trying their best to keep our area safe,” Kelley said. “The dedication of that team over there is second to none.…Our organization there has paid off, and I’m just thankful that we were able to do that.”

Judge Kelley closed the briefing with the announcement of the latest coronavirus numbers in Pulaski County. Since Wednesday, two new cases have been reported — bringing Pulaski County’s total to 30. Of those, there has been one fatality and 15 recoveries. Of the 14 active cases, 12 are in self isolation and two are currently hospitalized.

“With the exception of a couple of areas I call minor outbreaks, we’ve done pretty well controlling the spread of this virus,” Judge Kelley said. “The majority of those were from two locations.”

According to the latest figures from the 10-county Lake Cumberland District Health Department, Adair County has surpassed Pulaski in the number of cases with a total of 32 — including 23 new cases tied to Summit Manor nursing home in Columbia. The district total stands at 85 positive/presumed positive cases.

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