Carlisle County has partnered with a marketing research consulting firm to study ways to boost economic development and tourism.
Judge-Executive Greg Terry joined Jon Deaton of 20/20 Xtreme on Wednesday to outline the project that includes a series of community input meetings, an economic development study and branding efforts like a website and social media presence with a goal of improving visibility for tourists, businesses and residents.
A research phase will comprise the initial six months, which includes community meetings beginning November 2. Deaton said he hopes business owners and residents will attend and share stories, background, assets and challenges. He said the firm's efforts are not designed to point out negatives or to be a cheerleader, but rather to find ways to improve the community.
Opportunities, they said, include access to the Mississippi River, rail and airport access, proximity to larger cities like Cape Girardeau and Paducah and lesser-known tourism resources like ATV/hiking/biking trails. He said the outdoors aspect is something locals know about, but not necessarily people coming through the region to go to Land Between the Lakes. One of the goals, he said, is for people to stop in Carlisle County first.
Once needs and desires of a community are identified, Deaton said, it becomes a matter of how the city wants to grow and to what extent community members and city leaders are willing to invest. Changing the mindset is a large factor, he said, citing Paducah as an example, "One of the things that you hear there... that just showing off your culture, just showing off your artists, just showing off these talents that you have and better giving them these opportunities, many times changes a lot in the community."
It's easier to work off of a checklist, Deaton said, after the information is collected - from which businesses can have the tools to pursue growth. He noted that this is not unattainable in a county like Carlisle, pointing to the health clinic KentuckyCare, which began in Bardwell and now has five locations in the region and other affiliated locations in Arkansas through ARcare.
Judge Terry said through this initiative, a challenge to overcome in Carlisle County is finding ways to keep young, smart people in the community to begin and grow businesses. He said he wants young people to realize that this effort is for them. The issue of 'brain drain' affects rural communities across the region and the United States.
Deaton said the effort will be similar to one already underway in neighboring Ballard County. While there may be some cross-over potential between the counties, he said this particular project will highlight assets unique to Carlisle County. The four westernmost river counties already share an economic development initiative called 'WAVE' and are part of the Great River Road tourism collaboration.
Regionally, the counties share access to the Mississippi River and an agricultural economy, but struggle with relatively high unemployment and poverty rates. Like their neighbors, Carlisle County is rural and sparsely populated: under 5,000 residents in the county and fewer than 700 in the largest city, Bardwell (according to 2016 state economic development statistics).
Terry said the five-year project is a $34,000 investment by the industrial development board, allocated from revenue collected from rent at an industrial site.