In 1875 train tracks for the Southern Railroad were completed and Somerset saw a population growth and an increase in industry. Nearly 75 years later, the impoundment of Lake Cumberland in 1950 transformed Somerset from a sleepy rural community into a recreational and tourism hub.
During that time period, the residents of our south central town probably saw a major shift in the landscape of their surroundings. During my lifetime, I witnessed the county’s cultural shift from downtown Somerset migrate down S. Hwy. 27. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s very few businesses occupied space on Hwy. 27 south of Oak Hill Road. Now, S. Hwy. 27 has become overwhelmed with businesses.
But now with the tremendous work being done by the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Authority (SPEDA) over the past four years, Pulaski County may be looking at its next future shift of growth to the eastern portion of the county. SPEDA has made great strides in securing more potential industry to the eastern portion of the county. The SPEDA board, along with SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler, have made great headway by enticing new industry and major road improvements to the eastern Pulaski County area.
Besides the many industries already established in eastern Pulaski County, the SPEDA Commerce Park broke ground in 2020 and is well on its way to grow exponentially. The SPEDA Commerce Park is a 142-acre development in the Ky. 80-461 area that will offer certified build-ready sites to industrial prospects. The park’s first tenant, the Kentucky National Guard, announced its intentions in 2021 to build a new regional readiness center and field maintenance shop there on 18 acres.
The $70 million federal road project is well underway and will add lanes to Ky. 461 and a cloverleaf interchange at the 80/461 intersection, improving traffic flow and enhancing the connection between I-65 and I-75. SPEDA Commerce Park is a short distance away and will offer build-ready sites to industrial prospects.
At present, the cloverleaf interchange at the 80/461 intersection construction looks more like a war zone than progress. However, once the 80/461 interchange is completed and four-lane roadwork begins on Ky. 461, expect to see a new influx of extra businesses pop up along the roadway to Mt. Vernon.
“The $70-million interchange of Highway 80 and 461 is creating the foundation for the future northeastern bypass,” stated SPEDA CEO Chris Girdler. “Our number one road project in Pulaski County, from SPEDA’s perspective, is finishing that four lane of 461 all the way to Interstate 75. I can say without any fear of contradiction, that four-laning Highway 461 to Mount Vernon to the interstate will without question have the greatest positive impact on Pulaski County that any other road project even comes remotely close.”
Not only will a four-lane road from Somerset to I-75 create more businesses popping up along its pathway, but it will bring in more out-of-town money to our local area.
“That is something that we believe in our heart of hearts will help improve the economic development capabilities of this area,” Girdler stated. “It helps in workforce because you can recruit from Somerset, London and Mount Vernon.”
Like the Hamburg area in Lexington, the eastern portion of Pulaski County could well be our next growth spurt and shift of economic landscape. And while it started with Valley Oak several years ago, eastern Pulaski County is slowly but surely becoming an impactful industrial area.
“It just shows that’s representative of the future growth mindset of this community,” Girdler stated.”We are trying to be visionaries. We’re trying to look into the future. What is good for Somerset and Pulaski County? Not just today, but let’s lay the foundation for generations that are 10, 20, 30, and 40 years from now.
“We’re seeing what that vision did for the city of Somerset with the natural gas system,” Girdler said. “Thank goodness that those leaders went against the grain a little bit back then, and did what a lot of people said couldn’t be done.
“That’s what we’re hoping to do today,” Girdler exclaimed. “Working with Judge (Marshall) Todd and Mayor (Alan) Keck, we’re trying to look ahead to 2030 and beyond. A lot of people said what SPEDA has done over the last four years could not be done. We’ve proven those naysayers wrong, and we feel that we’re going to continue to prove those naysayers wrong.”
Just like the sun rises in the east every day of our lives, the county’s future growth will soon rise in the east also.
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