Four River Counties - Western Ky


Bobby Clark, Founder and President of Sustainable Business Ventures  has been working with the Ballard County Economic & Industrial Development Board (BCEIDB) since May 2015 to explore developing a River Port in Wickliffe KY. Bobby recommended that BCEIDB engage attorney Jonathan Miller, Frost Brown & Todd (FB&T) to assist in the development effort. Jonathan Miller is now leading yhis initiative through CivicPoint, a subsidiary of FB&T, to facilitate a multi-year economic development project in the region. Most significantly, the four River County Judge-Executives – buoyed by the business and civic leadership of their communities – have banded together to develop a unifying, cohesive strategy – to expand regional assets, capitalize on joint resources and promote the region. This unprecedented, bi-partisan collaboration will help facilitate the navigation of a unique public-private partnership that could capture the state’s, and indeed the national imagination, spurring economic growth and progress to a region that sorely needs it, and one that is ideally positioned for rebirth and revitalization. 


1. Regional Port Authority
The most discussed and debated local priority related to the opportunity on the Mississippi is the creation of a four-county regional port authority. Local rivalries have already reared their head in terms of siting. We suggest the development
of a four county port authority that manages two ports, one in Hickman at the existing River Port, and one in Wickliffe at or near the site of the closed Verso paper mill. Given its location near the Ohio and the nature of the water flow, the Wickliffe site could emerge as one of the largest and successful ports in the country; but efforts must also focus on how the new authority can boost traffic and business into the Hickman port as well.

2. Tourism
In what is perhaps the best existing model for a four-county collaboration, KYGRRO has done an extraordinary job developing a strong foundation for a coordinated eco-, adventure- and cultural-tourism initiative in the River Counties. There is no need to reinvent the wheel – however, this Strategic Project’s value is to bring new resources to the KYGRRO effort, as well as to shine a spotlight on their great work to attract the attention, support and attendance of the rest of the state. Most significantly, this initiative can help pool the resources of the four counties, the Purchase region, and the state to help achieve the vision of a Great River Road trail that supplements the scenic beauty with lodging, restaurants, boutiques, adventure tourism, and other, diverse programs with a small-town feel, similar to what has been created in Eastern Tennessee.

3. Agriculture Technology
With the potential for a new port authority securing the region’s place in the emerging development of Mississippi River traffic, there is significant potential for dramatic growth in the region’s agriculture footprint. Traditional crops and existing
livestock pose development opportunities, but even more exciting are the potential prospects for profit driven by new crops such as industrial hemp and by biotechnology developments. With the partnership of Murray State, a regional
leader in agriculture technology, the four counties are poised to play a major role in 21st century agriculture.

4. 21st century Public/Private Partnerships
While this Project will identify and try to secure any potential opportunity for public funding, the culture of the region favors a “hand up” as opposed to a “handout.” Accordingly, a critical goal of the initiative will be to develop public/private partnerships (P3s) to unleash the power of the private sector to spur job growth and economic development. Particularly with recent passage of P3 legislation in Frankfort, the region is poised well to benefit from this new financing strategy. The most significant P3 project likely would be the new port authority, but particular efforts should also be pursued in regards to 21st century technologies, infrastructure, and economic models.

5. Education and Workforce Development (Casey Allen, Chair)
With the region boasting strong educational leadership in both its public schools and in nearby institutions of higher education, there already has been much work done with cradle to college collaboration, particularly with dual credit programs. But with the new opportunities posed by the new Mississippi River traffic, it will be critical to re-calibrate to ensure that there is sufficient training for the jobs that could be created. Additionally, there will require greater efforts to promote adult education, to train folks that have lost their jobs or looking for new opportunities, to become versed in the 21st century workforce.

6. Small Business, Entrepreneurism, Seed Capital and Leadership Development (Bobby Clark is staffing this committee)
While the Project’s top economic goal will be to attract new River-related employers to the region, any long-term sustained growth in a rural region will rely on the development of small business and entrepreneurs. Often times these firms will provide goods or services to larger manufacturing companies; other times they will carve out niches in international markets, made available by Internet technologies. Considerable work and study has been done nationwide to understand small business development and to nurture and empower the spirit of entrepreneurship. Such research should be identified and employed in local efforts in the four counties.

Back in the 19th Century, the Mississippi River furnished an intimate and iconic stage for our nation’s popular culture. In perhaps the greatest American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, former riverboater Mark Twain captured the journey of Huck racing toward the intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to secure his pal Tom’s freedom from slavery. At that time as well, the Great Mississippi functioned as the country’s economic backbone, with steamboats hustling the exports of the nation’s nascent manufacturing economy toward destinations overseas.

By the 20th century, of course, river traffic began to take a backseat to planes, trains and automobiles. As the millennium concluded, the U.S. manufacturing economy struggled against the duel forces of cheaper international trade and the rapid emergence of a new technology-based information age. The four far-western Kentucky River Counties that abut the Mississippi – Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle and Ballard (the site of the intersection with the Ohio) – naturally suffered, a predicament worsened by the inattention of policymakers and politicians in the state capital, hundreds of miles away.

With the dawn of the 21st century, however, new opportunity has arisen. A major expansion of the Panama Canal – introducing a new lane, doubling the waterway’s capacity, and tripling ship cargo loads – will result in a dramatic increase of cargo ship traffic up the Mississippi to destinations in America’s heartland. Indeed, innovative new vessel technology, favorable federal regulation, and congestion at Western ports, freight rail routes and on Midwestern roads all have positioned river shipping as preeminently economical, energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Further, our national transformation into an information-based economy poses new opportunity for areas such as the River Counties that are geographically-remote from urban centers. With a lauded public education system, partnerships with nearby Murray State University and West Kentucky Community and Technology College, and the pending expansion of affordable high-speed broadband, the River Counties are well-positioned to attract the high-paying, high-tech jobs of the 21st century.