Danville growing faster than its infrastructure

April 16, 2004|GARY MOYERS

Four themes popped up in all four categories of the Community Development Council's growth discussion forum Thursday night - improved infrastructure, workforce development, retention efforts and diversity.

The forum, first of what executive director Katie Jo Kirkpatrick hopes will be quarterly sessions, offered residents of Boyle County an opportunity to express their opinions on how Danville should develop with regard to zoning issues. The discussion was divided into commercial, residential, industrial and downtown development categories.

Infrastructure, or a lack thereof, rose to the top of the list in all four categories.

"We have a lot of area zoned for commercial use that simply doesn't have the infrastructure in place to support business," said Dennis Cox, a Danville developer. "We have to make those areas inviting before businesses will consider locating there."

"Danville is growing faster than we realize, but our infrastructure is way behind," said 57-year business owner R.A. Chinn. "Our planning is going in the right direction, but we're going to need to make some changes, especially in the downtown area, to keep pace and get the businesses we want in here."


Ernst Crown-Weber, owner of Danville Bike and Fitness, cautioned the group against viewing downtown and bypass growth issues separately.

"I am discouraged with the kind of leadership or vision which has written off the downtown area," he said. "It's not downtown versus bypass. If one prospers, it doesn't necessarily mean the other will lose. Prosperity by one should be a boon to the other."

Business, industrial retention could be improved

Steve Rinehart, an employee of R.R. Donnelley & Sons, cited business and industrial retention efforts as one area that could be improved.

"One of the things we need to make a stronger effort to do is stay in touch with our existing industries and businesses to find out how we can work with them to keep them here," he said. "I firmly believe ATR (which closed its plant last year) would still be here if we had stayed in touch with them and worked to address their needs. I am concerned that unless we concentrate some effort on retention, we could lose even more."

Kirkpatrick agreed with Rinehart.

"We need to work harder to retain our current businesses," she said. "Not only that, but we have to make a greater effort to retain the 20-to-30 age group in our community and make them available for our workforce."

Heart of Danville director Julie Wagner pointed out that Danville serves as a regional trade hub for 28 counties with a population of more than 700,000 people, and business and industrial recruitment efforts, while showing some successes, hasn't kept pace with that population.

"We're doing something wrong as recruiters in that we are not growing more commercially, given the population that does business here," she said.

Vacancy rate is below 6 percent in downtown area

Wagner said the vacancy rate in the downtown area is now below 6 percent, and pointed to the addition of the outpatient surgery center in the Hub-Gilcher building as a major step forward for downtown.

Diversity, the other big theme, drew several pointed references in all categories. "Being a smaller community but being a regional hub as well, we want to attract things bigger communities have but on a smaller scale," said City Commissioner Jamey Gay. "But we have to diversify our commercial offerings, as well as our industrial offerings, to appeal to a diversified workforce that fills the needs of our industrial citizens."

Former mayor Alex Stevens said simply "there is a shortage of commercial choices in Danville."

No vote was taken to identify the items at the top of the "wish list," but Kirkpatrick said she plans to compile the information and distribute it via CDC's monthly newsletter.

"Forums like this are a way we can identify what our residents and business owners consider the top needs and concerns in Danville," she said. "It gives our stakeholder organizations some reference points when they develop plans of action for growth."

Kirkpatrick said the next forum will address workforce development, but a date has yet to be set.

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