SPEDA, SPCDF meet jointly to work toward transition

Janie Slaven | CJ

The Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority and Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation met in adjacent sessions Thursday afternoon. Pictured from left are Michael Noftsger (SPCDF/Forcht Bank), SPEDA Secretary-Treasurer Seth Atwell, SPEDA Chair Brook Ping, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, SPCDF Executive Director Martin Shearer, Cody Gibson (SPEDA/Wright Medical), Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, SPCDF Chair Dr. Michael Hail, Kevin Newton (SPCDF/South Kentucky RECC), Alesa Johnson (SPCDF/Somerset Community College), SPEDA President/CEO Chris Girdler and Forrest Spillman (SPEDA/Somerset High School).

More than once, Chris Girdler, president and CEO of SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority), has compared the new agency to an airplane that's being put together as it moves down the runway.

"But I don't think that there is anything that prohibits an organization from moving quickly but yet efficiently and properly," he added. "That's what we're trying to do."

Meeting in regular session Thursday, the SPEDA board continues to walk a fine line to balance instituting basic logistics (bylaws, locations both physical and digital, transportation, budget guidelines, etc.) and working towards taking over the controls for the community's economic future from the Somerset Pulaski County Development Foundation (SPCDF).

The biggest step toward that greater goal discussed was a recommendation from SPEDA board attorney Jeremy Bartley to extend the Development Foundation a management contract to continue its operation under SPEDA's authority without actually switching out boards. While Bartley acknowledged both options as viable quick-turn solutions, he opined that the management contract would prevent "successor liability" for SPEDA in the short term until the two organizations can get a better handle on property and other long-term issues.

With a motion from Somerset Mayor Alan Keck that was seconded by Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley, SPEDA members voted to extend such a contract on condition that Foundation members are amenable to the arrangement.

Though the Foundation met in special session immediately after SPEDA, SPCDF chair Dr. Michael Hail advised that the issue would be considered at the Foundation's regular monthly meeting on March 21 in order to give that organization's legal counsel a proper chance to review it. However, Dr. Hail did note that the Foundation's nominating committee had been prepared to recommend Thursday that SPEDA board members occupy Foundation board vacancies. A vote on that was postponed pending consideration of SPEDA's offer.

Both Girdler and SPCDF Executive Director Martin Shearer shared with their respective boards that they have been working closely together since the former's official start as SPEDA President. The information shared thus far includes an inventory of property the Foundation manages as well as recommendations from a consulting firm the older group worked with for a branding/marketing initiative.

Girdler further encouraged his board to apply for up to $50,000 in USDA funding allocated for marketing efforts by economic startups -- noting the grant can be used for advertising, website development and related projects. With an application deadline of April 27, the awards are expected to be announced in June.

"There would be a very small matching portion, but I think that would be very minimal in comparison to the overall amount that we might be able to receive," he added. "We're going to be very aggressive in a rollout for our marketing…. I'm very excited about the possibility of this USDA grant. I think that's going to be just the tip of the iceberg of other grant opportunities we're going to be seeking out."

In meeting adjacent to the SPEDA meeting, Dr. Hail noted his board wanted "to show unity between our boards and our common purpose of economic development in the community.

"We're all working to get efficient, reasonable transition underway here," he continued. "The SPEDA board is making really good progress. They're crossing a lot of bridges, getting well organized, and I have complete faith they're going to continue their strong launch. We [SPCDF] just want to figure out how we can best improve our operations to transfer our economic development work to them."

Taking off from Girdler's airplane metaphor, Dr. Hail noted that recruiting projects the Foundation was spearheading are very much in play. "The things we had going down the runway are still going down the runway," he said. "I don't think our transition is slowing that process down."

Since taking the CEO job, Girdler reported that he's been attending a marathon of meetings including Somerset City Council, Pulaski County Fiscal Court, Lake Cumberland Regional Airport Board, Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce and Somerset-Pulaski County Convention and Visitors Bureau among others. He plans to become a familiar face at those venues.

"I think that will help the SPEDA organization keep its finger on the pulse of everything that's going on in the community and continue to work in that spirit of togetherness," Girdler said. "I think we are going to have some very big announcements in the near future. I am so excited about the next three to four months from all these conversations that have taken place -- just the amount of incredible ideas that have been brought forth and the amount of energy, synergy and community collaboration that is taking place."

SPEDA Chair Brook Ping particularly expressed his appreciation for Girdler attending city council and fiscal court meetings, suggesting the other board members should follow suit. The organization is starting out with a $200,000 allocation from Pulaski County Fiscal Court -- a quarterly payment as required by an October 2017 city-county interlocal agreement addressing division of occupational tax revenues through Fiscal Year 2026.

After having conducted its first three "regular" meetings in the Pulaski County Fiscal Courtroom, the SPEDA board voted to move its permanent base to the Energy Center -- the base of operations for Somerset city government. Mayor Keck volunteered the space -- noting it would save the authority some $25-30,000 per year, offer privacy for recruitment efforts and could be available by the end of April with minimum renovation.

"It would be a win for the taxpayer and better utilize the space we have," Keck added in reference to the Energy Center. "We're happy for that to be a piece of our contribution to the initiative of the board."

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