For 55 years, KAED has led the Commonwealth’s economic development with the goals of increasing employment, wealth, and opportunities in Kentucky’s communities. KAED’s forerunner, the Kentucky Industrial Development Council (KIDC) was established in 1968. Representatives of railroads, utilities, and basic manufacturing formed an association to prospect, plan, and prepare sites to support manufacturing attraction and expansion. Since then, KAED has pressed for and evolved to offer its members the networking, experiences, professional development, strategies, and tools needed to succeed in an ever-changing economy.
When I joined KIDC in 1992, the organization offered fall, spring, and summer conferences with limited programming but abundant informal networking. Regionalism, infrastructure, and multi-county regional parks dominated presentations. A part-time executive director, with help from the host community, organized the meetings. Throughout the 1990s, cities including Paducah, Danville, and Paintsville, competed to host about 125 members and showcase their towns. These gatherings fostered lasting professional relationships and personal friendships. Daryl Smith, a KAED member since 1997, says, “KAED has been the major difference-maker in my career. It gave me the education, networking opportunities, and service avenues to advance my career.” I was introduced to and accepted as a peer by such economic development legends as Darrell Gilliam, the Coleman brothers, Jill Wilson, Debbie Gray, Jimmy Jones, Jim Catlett, Art Crowe, Bob Hazelrigg, Daryl Smith, Phil Kerrick, Terri Bradshaw, and Sandy Romanesko. Despite most “happening into” the field, many were inducted into the KAED Hall of Fame for their contributions.
Nearing the turn of the millennium, manufacturing offshoring accelerated, and businesses adopted information technology which sped communications and collapsed distance. These events drove the transition from a goods-based economy to a service and entrepreneurial economy. Communities and KIDC’s leadership grappled with reflecting this new economic paradigm in their name and practice. Moreover, education, commercial real estate, construction, communications, law, and workforce development deserved a voice, and quality of life and talent attraction became discussion topics. After two years of spirited debates, the old guard and forward-thinking found common ground, strengthening the organization. In 2005, the membership voted to adopt the name Kentucky Association for Economic Development, recognizing the maturing field’s broad scope of stakeholders.
By then, KAED had a full-time executive director. The organization expanded its membership, strengthened ties with the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet (KCED), and raised Kentucky’s profile as a great place to live, work, learn, and play. One key strategy was KAED’s decision to launch KentuckyUnited. This marketing initiative harnessed lessons learned in regional cooperation from the 1990s to place the state on a national and global stage. Partnering with KCED, KAED produced targeted marketing materials and strategies including in-person visits to domestic and international business leaders across the US. KentuckyUnited has resulted in scores of new plant locations and new site demand. Meanwhile, membership grew significantly in the 2000s limiting KAED’s event venues to larger Kentucky communities.
KAED’s members have always valued professional development and education. For KAED Foundation board member, Debbie Gray, “Joining KIDC early made a difference for my career through networking opportunities, advice from colleagues, and educational elements. Completing the KIED Basic course made me eager for more knowledge, and I continued educational courses throughout.” Economic development became widely recognized as a career choice in the 2000s. In the 2010s, higher education introduced economic development courses and degrees. KAED’s ranks swelled into the hundreds and called for more professional development and leadership opportunities.
In response, KAED scheduled under-40 gatherings at conferences preparing younger members for association leadership. Current and former young KAED leaders include Amanda Davenport, Danny Isaacs, Jodi Ashby, Lucas Witt, John Bevington, and Haley McCoy. Additionally, the Foundation initiated the Kentucky Economic Development Professional certification program. Partnering with the University of Kentucky, it assumed management of the IEDC-accredited Kentucky Institute for Economic Development (KIED) in 2017. Today, KAED’s new members better reflect Kentucky’s demographics and the organization is committed to ethical practice, inclusivity, and diversity.
KAED also devised tools like membership job postings, netcast, and the Product Development Initiative. PDI helps under-resourced communities with unrealized potential combine site consultant expertise and modest grants to improve business location sites, especially in rural areas. KAED’s advocacy efforts helped usher in tax modernization and the expansion of special-use taxing districts for targeted development.
Throughout its history, KAED has led and responded to economic and social changes to increase community wealth, improve the quality of life, and expand employment opportunities for Kentuckians. Under its current leadership and professional staff, KAED will continue to build Kentucky’s tomorrow today. I agree with Terri Bradshaw, President/CEO, Kentucky Capital Development Corp., who says, “KAED is at the center of everything we do as economic development professionals. It has always been an organization dedicated to providing a positive, enriching, learning experience that promotes greater economic opportunity and equity for every community in Kentucky.” By embracing change, KAED emerged as Kentucky’s economic development voice. To be a KAED member is to build a network of professional resources and steadfast friends, to learn theory and successful practice, to access tools, and to lead and grow. I wish KAED and the Commonwealth another 55 years of economic development leadership.