Industrial development leader John Hill Bailey dies

September 02, 2003|HERB BROCK

John Hill Bailey Jr., the architect and developer of Danville's economic transformation from a largely agricultural-based economy to an industrial hub that became a model for small cities across Kentucky and around the region, died Sunday at his home in Nashville, Tenn. He was 89.

Described today by those who worked with him for many years as a "pioneer" and "legend" in his professional life and a "prince of man" and "compassionate friend and family man" in his personal life, Bailey, a native of Pineville, was founder and executive director for 29 years of the Boyle County Industrial Foundation.

In addition, Bailey served as an engineer and manager for 44 years with the Danville office of Kentucky Utilities.

Bailey's legacy as the community's industrial development leader is cemented in the number of industries that came to Danville in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, including those located in a monument to his work, the John Hill Bailey Jr. Industrial Park.


At the time of his retirement as head of the Industrial Foundation in 1990, industries in the park, which included such major employers as R.R. Donnelley and Sons, American Greetings, Mathews Conveyor and Dana, employed more than 3,500 workers and had a combined payroll of more than $60 million.

Several people who worked with Bailey paid tribute to the his memory today, including Joe Gibson, who was one of Bailey's employees at KU and later followed in his footsteps as head of the Industrial Foundation, a post he still holds today. Gibson had replaced the late John Camenisch, who was the first to take over as industrial foundation executive director upon Bailey's departure.

"I knew John Hill as a boss, when we were both at KU, and he was a wonderful supervisor, and as the man who became the foremost economic developer in the state in his time," Gibson said. "Because of what he accomplished here, many Kentucky communities and communities in neighboring states now have John Hill Baileys and their own industrial parks," Gibson said.

Danville became a laboratory of sorts for these other communities, he said.

"For many years, he was the leader of the efforts to industrialize small communities and do it in an organized and appropriate way, and community leaders from around the state and nearby states came to Danville because it was a model and the Foundation was a model organization," said Gibson. "They would come here and literally look at what John Hill accomplished and take notes and go on tours."

Of the many honors Bailey received over the years, one of the highest was his being named Outstanding Volunteer Developer by the 17-state Southern Economic Development Council.

"One of the remarkable things about John Hill's service was that he was a volunteer, not a hired professional like some communities have," Gibson said. "For many years, he would do a lot of his industrial development work in spare time from his KU position. He received only token compensation and that mostly was for travel and office expenses."

Discriminating about industries he sought

Robert Donlon, retired manager of the Philips plant, where he served for 15 years, and its predecessor, the Corning Glass Works plant, where he worked for 28 years, said Bailey was very discriminating in the kinds of industries he tried to lure to Danville.

"I knew John Hill and worked with him for many years, and one thing that people need to know is that he was very careful and detailed in his industrial development planning," said Donlon. "He didn't go after just any industry. In fact, he often turned down industries he didn't think were right for Danville. He always looked for industries that would be clean and good employers and good neighbors. He wanted industries that would be a good fit for Danville and good fits with existing industries.

"John Hill worked with industries after they came to Danville. Whatever the issue, he was always trying to reach a consensus among the industries," he said. "He listened to everyone's point of view and then helped everyone reach a conclusion that everyone could live with."

Bailey's success as an industrial developer and leader flowed from his style as a man who "did his work quietly, not flamboyantly" and "worked for compromise" and "then just got it done."

"He was a man with a vision and we can see that vision when we drive by the industrial park, and we can see it more clearly if we drive there to work. The park is a monument to the vision."

Tom Sellers, longtime president of Sellers Engineering, said his is one of the few industries that Bailey didn't have a hand in landing. But Sellers said he later worked with Bailey on many projects involving the Industrial Foundation and Industrial Council.

"John Hill expended as much energy working to retain industries as he did trying to attract them," Sellers said. "One of the biggest selling points that lured plants to Danville was that they knew, once they came, they would still have John Hill to work with and to go to bat for them.

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