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Fischer Chooses Economic Development Director to Lead Bloomberg Project

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has chosen a member of his cabinet to lead a grant-funded project to develop a new manufacturing region with Lexington.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is giving Louisville and several other cities grants to form so-called innovation teams to carry out municipal improvement projects.

Fischer has tapped interim Economic Development Director Margaret Handmaker to lead the project locally. Mayor’s spokesman Chris Poynter says Fischer interviewed many potential candidates in and out of Metro Government. Bloomberg officials helped choose Handmaker and will continue to work on the project for the next three years.

“Basically, Bloomberg’s role, in addition to funding the initiative, they will be bringing in their experts from around the country to Louisville for meetings and to work directly with Margaret and the team Margaret is about to assembly to work on what we call the innovation teams,” says Poynter.

Bloomberg gave Louisville $4.8 million for the project. The city is contributing an additional $2.4 million.

Handmaker has been conducting a review of the city’s economic development strategy. She’ll assume her new duties in December and step down from her current post.

“The mayor’s goal is to have a permanent [economic development] director named by the end of the year, which would coincide with Margaret’s report of changes to the city’s economic development strategy,” says Poynter.

Handmaker’s salary in the new position and the salaries of her appointees will be paid from the project fund.

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Mayors Discuss Super Region Study

The initial planning for a super region between Louisville and Lexington has begun.

The Brookings Institution is helping the cities put together a plan for an economic partnership centered around manufacturing jobs. In particular, it will look at how best to lure more auto industry jobs to Louisville, Lexington or nearby cities.

In the past, business leaders and Greater Louisville Inc. officials have said the state tax code hampers business.

“We have a lot of strengths already,” says Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer of the existing manufacturing infrastructure in the cities. “Can our state tax codes be improved? Sure. But that’s a minor element for the overall plan.”

The plan is being compared to Louisville’s previous effort to become a logistics hub around UPS. But Business Facilities magazine recently did not rank Louisville as of the country’s “top ten logistics cities” that are poised to see continued prosperity in shipping and distribution.

“Regardless of if we’re top ten or number eleven, we play a central role in the economy of our country and having success with our super region economic development plan is going to accelerate that even further,” says Fischer.

The study will cost $250,000 and will be paid for through private donations. Bloomberg Philanthropies recently awarded Louisville a $4.8 million grant in part to help with the super region development.

The region will be called the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, or BEAM.

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Hardin County Officials Say Alcohol Sales Will Spur Economic Development

Hardin County officials say expanded alcohol sales will help the area capitalize on future developments further north.

On October 4th, voters in Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove will vote on whether to allow alcohol sales at package liquor stores and in restaurants.

“We become a more attractive location, I think, for some younger professionals and professionals when we’ve got more entertainment options and more restaurant options,” says Hardin County Chamber of Commerce President Brad Richardson.

Richardson hopes expanded sales will attract businesses and residents drawn to the area by Fort Knox. He adds that the appeal would also help the cities if Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s plans for a super-region with Lexington and a stronger I-65 corridor come to fruition.

Opponents of the measure say expanded sales will cause more alcohol-related accidents and attract unwelcome vices such as prostitution to the area.

“People are driving to other communities and they’re getting their alcohol and they’re bringing it back. We’re not encouraging anybody to drink who’s not drinking now,” says Richardson of what he calls the opposition’s scare tactics.

Richardson estimates that millions of dollars are spent by Hardin County residents in Jefferson or neighboring counties with more modern liquor laws. “We’re just hoping to capture some of those dollars here,” he says.

An ad campaign promoting expanded sales is forthcoming.

The county was previously dry, but the public voted to give cities the option to expand sales in the last decade. Currently, Vine Grove is entirely dry while Elizabethtown and Radcliff only allow alcohol to be sold by the drink in restaurants.

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Louisville/Lexington Rail Link Plans Could Fall Apart

Plans for a possible rail line connecting Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort are moving forward, but that progress could soon stop. The man behind the concept is leaving his job.

Executive director of the Kentucky Capital Development Corporation Ralph Tharp first released his plans for the line earlier this year. But his contract with the corporation will not be renewed. Tharp says he has the support of mayors along the route and he will continue to work on the project until his contract expires in October.

Tharp says the next step for the rail plan is a feasibility study, which would look at routes, stops and capacity. The study would cost around $300,000, and is necessary to seek federal funds for the project.

“We feel very confident that we can money that is put into the highway tax fund,” Tharp says “the federal tax fund that Kentucky creates every year, and we feel there is enough money in that to be used for the rail.”

Louisville and Lexington are working with the Brookings Institution to develop plans for a super region that connects the two cities. Fischer says transportation is a key part of any super region, though he’s not sure if a rail line is the best option.

“The link between Lexington and Louisville is something that I’m spending a lot of time on,” Fischer says “we need to create a regional economy, part of that will be transportation, what type of transportation, when it will be involved, we haven’t focused on that yet, but transportation obviously is a critical link: Lexington, Frankfort, Louisville.”

The question now is what will happen to the plan for a rail line.

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Louisville to Receive $4.8 Million Bloomberg Grant

Louisville is among five cities chosen to receive money and assistance from the philanthropic arm of the Bloomberg company.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is giving a total of $24 million to Louisville, Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans. The money will essentially pay for brain power, through what the charity is calling innovation teams. They’ll work with local governments to address pressing issues identified by city leaders.

In Louisville, the team will take on two tasks: government efficiency and jobs. That means creating LouieStat, Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed public database of most city information, from department spending to pothole locations and repair schedules.

The team will also look at Fischer’s plan for a so-called super region with Lexington. The two mayors proposed the idea earlier this month, and the Bloomberg grant will be used to research how an updated manufacturing industry can link the cities.

Louisville will receive $4.8 million from Bloomberg over the next three years. That must be matched by $2.4 million in local money. The mayor’s office says that will likely come from the general fund as well as local foundations and businesses.