West Kentucky has a long history of economic success: as a 19th century distribution hub, an agricultural center, a nuclear-age site for uranium enrichment, and a center for numerous manufacturing specialties. In recent years, the region’s economy has been driven by its large military presence (Fort Campbell) and a growing number of domestic and foreign-based manufacturers, including several in the automotive sector. West Kentucky’s geographic location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and its position along the IH-69 corridor (which stretches from Mexico to Canada) are among its strongest economic development assets. Despite its advantages, many outside businesses and investors are unaware of West Kentucky’s opportunities and younger residents often leave the region for amenities found in larger urban areas. Adapting to the changing dynamics and workforce requirements of business will be critical if the region is to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy.
To address these challenges and opportunities, the West Kentucky Workforce Board hired TIP Strategies and Avalanche Consulting to conduct a detailed labor study, target sector analysis, and regional economic growth strategy. Meetings with employers and other stakeholders provided valuable insights about shared workforce challenges and other issues impacting the region’s growth potential. Findings from the workforce and target sector analyses were used to prepare a Strategic Action Plan for the 17-county West Kentucky region. The plan provided a clear roadmap for partner organizations throughout West Kentucky to improve workforce development and, ultimately, the economic health of the region. The plan strongly emphasized broader regional and bi-state collaboration (with closer connections to partners such as the Delta Regional Authority and the Tennessee Valley Authority). New and expanded initiatives in four key areas were necessary for economic growth: 1) talent development; 2) talent retention and attraction; 3) small business and entrepreneurship; and 4) regional collaboration.