One Harlan County, a civic investment group, met with the county’s new economic development director during their regular monthly meeting on Monday.
For the past year, One Harlan County has been bringing together local leaders in business and government for monthly sessions devoted to pooling their resources seeking ways to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the community.
Larry Calhoun – who also met with his employers on the Harlan County Economic Development Authority for the first time Monday – stressed the need for the community “to have a shared vision” and engage in “a relentless pursuit” of realistic opportunities for growth, as well as support strategies for existing employers.
Introduced to the development group by Dan Mosley, Harlan County judge-executive, Calhoun expressed great enthusiasm for the work he’s been given.
As he initiates his contacts around the state and region and in a community that has often proven to be resiliently skeptical, Calhoun said his experience and success helps to bring “a fresh perspective” to the problems communities often struggle with.
“A new set of eyes always brings something new to the table,” Calhoun said.
The important thing for everyone to keep in mind, he added, was a shared vision of “what the community of Harlan County should look like in five years…The most important factor is that everyone be on the same page and there’s focus.”
As a beginning, Calhoun said he sees “a great deal of opportunity here,” with a large number of skilled people looking for work, a quality of life that is attractive to many, and below average costs of living and working that employers and business investors find appealing.
He also said it would be wise to take care which projects the county pursues to avoid “spend(ing) a lot of money chasing deals you’re never going to get.”
Roger Fannin, chairman of One Harlan County’s board of directors, said he believed the county’s economic development director position is “a good move…a risky move, but somebody has to be in place to drive this.”
He also encouraged everyone to be supportive.
“It’s going to take some time and we need to be patient,” he said. “It’s vitally important that we do things right from the beginning.”
These and other local efforts to grow new business opportunities while expanding existing ones will also be the challenge and goal for the new position of executive director for One Harlan County, which Fannin announced his board had recently approved. The board will pursue a nationwide search for candidates to fill the position, he added.
The group then heard from Henry Hughes, workforce solutions project manager at Southeast KCTCS, regarding countywide efforts to become a “Work Ready Community,” the state’s established method to certify counties based on the measurable quality of their labor force.
Hughes said “Work Ready Community” status shows prospective employers a talented workforce exists and business demands can be met.
The project for Harlan County is in the process of compiling a comprehensive assessment of individual educational skills (often as measured by tools produced through the ACT). The next step, Hughes said, will be to gather local support in the form of commitments from local businesses to meet and maintain the certification criteria.
Those commitments will include:
• Driving current workers and the available workforce to earn National Career Readiness Certificates (NCRCs;
• Demonstrating progress in meeting expectations for public high school graduation rates.
Support in terms of funding from state and national government sources, as well as private business investment, will be “dependent upon the our successful progress on these goals,” Hughes said.