By C.D. Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org
"I don't see that this changes anything," Mayor Bill Paxton said. "We have the infrastructure, we have the team and we have the resources. I think we've got to keep doing what we're doing. ... If we keep doing it, if we keep working hard, we're going to get jobs in here. I'm convinced of it."
Officials were quick to point out that USEC's choice of Piketon, Ohio, for the 50-job test plant to test gas centrifuge technology to enrich uranium does not mean that Paducah is out of the running for the potential 500-job commercial plant USEC would build if the test proved successful. That plant, expected to be built in about 10 years, would replace the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
"I don't see this as a major setback. I see it as a minor setback," said George Sirk, chairman of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce. "We're still in the running for the big prize."
Even if Paducah loses the larger plant, the local operation will continue for at least eight years, and possibly longer.
"We're awfully lucky. Most facilities don't give 10-year notice they might leave," said Ken Wheeler, chairman of a local nuclear energy task force and chairman-elect of the Greater Paducah Economic Development Council. Wheeler cited the closing of the Mattel plant in Murray, which closed months after announcing that operations would be moved to Mexico. "The fact we've got a 10-year window is a godsend."
Wheeler said some communities that lose a major industry find the loss to be a blessing eventually because it forces diversification of the economy.
Paxton said that will be the focus of economic development efforts now.
"We have the (city-county) Industrial Park West, and we have the Information Age Park," Paxton said. "We have a couple of prospects looking at us."
Paxton mentioned three prospects at a city commission retreat last month:
* "Project Wayne," an industrial prospect known only by that nickname to city officials, expected to choose between Paducah and Evansville, Ind., next year.
* A company seeking 400 acres for a facility that would employ up to 400
* A Pennsylvania company considering the city-county industrial park.
Paxton also said the city and county might look to acquire more land to expand their industrial park in the next two years. John Anderson, director of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, said he realized in the summer of 2000 that officials needed to plan for a time when the plant would no longer be around. When USEC then decided to close its plant in Ohio rather than in Paducah, it may have given some a false sense of security.
"Until (the test plant) was taken away from us, we were like Chicken Little, crying that the sky is falling," Anderson said. "I think everybody now realizes the potential for job losses at the plant. The only way to prepare for that is to have something else happen, like getting a plant at the regional industrial park."
Paxton called that park, to be located in northern Graves County, western Kentucky's "ace in the hole." Several officials suggested that the announcement could help secure state and federal funds that have been requested to complete the park.
"This announcement compels us to work harder on the regional park," county Judge-Executive Danny Orazine said. "It's also going to put more emphasis on the state to support the park."
He cited the state's purchase of potential industrial property in Hardin County after that area lost a bid for a $1 billion Hyundai Motor Co. plant to Alabama this year.
Chamber President Elaine Spalding added that "the beauty of that is that (the regional park) is the top priority of all the counties in the region."
Economic development and elected officials from the Purchase area have requested $5 million each from the state and federal governments each of the next two years, a total of $20 million.
Bill Beasley, general manager of the north Graves regional industrial park authority, said there are now 2,251 acres under three-year purchase options, and some of the options will be a year old early next year. While the authority is awaiting some grants sought, the state and federal funds are crucial for the next stage of development.
"I think this will increase the pressure on the state to help with not only the regional industrial park, but also other economic development efforts in the Purchase area," Beasley said. "In the long term, anyway, this could mean a potentially tremendous amount of jobs lost. ... This may be a negative story, but it's a story we can take to Frankfort and say, 'We need some help down here."Now that all the anticipation is over, it's time to do some other things.
Unfortunately, we lost this one. Now it's time to go fight the next battle."