Chamber of Commerce hosts a SPEDA unveiling

BILL MARDIS I CJ

Chris Girdler, president and CEO of SPEDA, looks at a detailed Kentucky Transportation Cabinet map of Pulaski County in SPEDA's boardroom at Somerset Energy Center. Girdler introduced SPEDA's brand, website, slogan, tagline and logo Tuesday to the August membership meeting of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

SPEDA (Somerset-Pulaski County Development Authority) has launched its mission to Somerset, Pulaski County, Lake Cumberland Region and the world. Chris Girdler, president and CEO of the authority, introduced the organization's brand, website, slogan, tagline and logo Tuesday to the August membership meeting of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce.

"Today is an exciting day for the staff and board of directors at SPEDA," Girdler said. "We have worked tirelessly to develop a new presence for our organization -- one that will show people across the nation and the globe the amazing things we're doing in Somerset and Pulaski County to enhance economic development and make it a place where businesses can locate, expand and be successful. We're looking at economic development through a different lens. Expressing his love and passion for Somerset and Pulaski County, Girdler said "... we're looking at anything a community does to improve the welfare of its people."

The organization's new brand, "Somerset Leads," puts visual emphasis on the way leadership is transforming the community. A bold, yellow arrow surrounded by smaller navy arrows represents SPEDA's desire to bring all of Somerset-Pulaski County's businesses, organizations and special interests together to move forward into a future of growth and excellence. The brand highlights ways Somerset and Pulaski County effectively lead through abundant resources, excellent quality of life, cooperative spirit, innovation and a focus on business retention and recruitment, making it a premier location for companies to open or expand. This message is prominent on SPEDA's new website, somersetkyleads.com, and in marketing materials the organization will use to recruit new business and industry, Girdler said.

"We want people around the world to know Somerset-Pulaski County is the easiest place in America to do business," Girdler insisted. "We believe unity and collaboration build a stronger economy. We're not just laying bricks. We're building cathedrals. We can accomplish so much more if we work together."

The organization's tagline -- making business about people -- puts emphasis on collaboration, customer service and workforce development, elements Girdler believes are crucial to the success of any economy.

"Our community leaders are making a difference. They're working together. They're effecting change. They're making business about people," Girdler declared. "And for this reason, when companies and industries learn about the environment that's being fostered here, they'll want to be a part."

At the chamber luncheon, Girdler told the audience SPEDA has already implemented more than $300,000 in annual cost-saving measures and has actively begun recruiting new conferences and conventions to the area. Girdler also announced several initiatives SPEDA will engage in to bolster quality of life, business support and workforce development in Pulaski County. They include:

SPEDA Mini-Grant Series -- A new mini-grant program that will award $10,000 annually to four recipients to help in business endeavors. A review committee will award two $2,500 grants to start-up companies, and two $2,500 grants to growth-oriented businesses for inventory, equipment or any other function of expansion.

Development of new industrial park -- SPEDA, in partnership with Pulaski County Fiscal Court and the City of Somerset, will develop a new industrial park on 190 acres of land on East Ky. 80, near the location of the undeveloped northern bypass corridor.

Pulaski County Judicial Center stage -- SPEDA will partner with the 2017 Leadership Lake Cumberland class to provide financial support and oversight for its project to build a permanent, covered stage at the Judicial Center plaza. The stage would be an asset for downtown programs and events.

Virginia Theatre feasibility study -- In an effort to demonstrate arts and culture are important economic tools, SPEDA will be a partner in a new feasibility study to explore costs of renovating the once-thriving Virginia Theatre in the heart of downtown.

Overflow truck lot at Valley Oak Commerce Complex -- To address an ongoing problem at Valley Oak Commerce Complex with the large number of tractor-trailers entering and exiting for daily deliveries, SPEDA has committed financial support and oversight for the construction of an overflow lot. The lot will help alleviate traffic issues and expedite deliveries for the industries located in the park.

Training programs -- SPEDA will implement two new training programs to enhance workforce development efforts across the county. Hospitality training will be available to front-line employees to prepare them for interacting with visitors who might want to know more about the community. Soft-skills training, available to any Pulaski County business, will teach interpersonal skills -- communication, team-building, problem-solving, leadership and work ethic -- vital to successful collaboration in the workplace.

Work Ethics Seal program -- SPEDA will partner with local school districts to plan improvements to the Work Ethics Seal program which will raise the level of soft-skills training needed to be successful in the workforce. Students must meet certain criteria in order to earn the seal.

Detention center training -- SPEDA and Pulaski County Jailer Anthony McCollum, along with Somerset Community College's workforce development department, are partnering to offer soft-skills and technology training to inmates to help them better prepare for employment once they are released. Inmates who complete the program will receive reduced sentences for good time served.

Industrial Leaders' Breakfast -- SPEDA's Industrial Leadership Breakfast will bring business and industry leaders together quarterly to discuss their needs, hear ideas for enhancing economic development efforts and ensure SPEDA is taking care of existing businesses.

SPEDA, now six months old, has absorbed the former Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation. Girdler emphasized the importance of city-county cooperation in making the economic development effort a success. He emphasized the necessity of keeping Judge-Executive Steve Kelley and members of Fiscal Court involved in the SPEDA mission."I haven't missed a meeting of (Pulaski) Fiscal Court since I've been on this job," he noted.

"Somerset Leads" is SPEDA's slogan. "SPEDA is the local acronym but as we go out in the world it is "Somerset Leads," Girdler declared. The slogan evolved from a question: "Why not Somerset? " ... because Somerset leads ... it reached a crescendo ... leadership is what Somerset reflects ... making its business about people," said Girdler.

The organization's website was launched Tuesday. "It is our front porch ... our window to the world," he said. "Industries and businesses interested in this area look first at the website," Girdler contends.

On tables at the chamber session were symbolic rubbery manikins that join together. "By itself we can't reach very far. But if we start joining hand in hand, working together, the sky is the limit; we can reach the stars," Girdler encouraged..

"Our people are what sets us apart. Our people are our competitive advantage ... let's work together," urged Girdler. "We want to reflect our ability to bring people together in this community."

Girdler said Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Pulaski County Judge-Executive Kelley have challenged " ... do more with less and be transparent." Through rent, utilities and pest control bids we are saving $58,000 a year with oversight and good management, Girdler said. The merger with Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation, combined with other things, has a potential savings of more than $300,000 a year, he reiterated.

SPEDA's operations are financed with funds from the county's 1 percent occupational tax. "I'm working on grants ... I've already applied for two grants," revealed Girdler.

An open house to welcome the public is planned from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 29 at SPEDA's third-floor headquarters in Somerset Energy Center.