One has to be going to Owensboro. It is not on the way to a major destination. Many lifelong Kentuckians cannot even find Owensboro on a map. Owensboro’s relative isolation and lack of visibility is a notorious shortcoming. If, however, our community can unite behind the following goals we can undo 50 years of missed opportunities and thereby greatly enhance Owensboro’s public image and self-esteem.
Weather Station at Airport
The lack of a weather reporting station means that Owensboro never appears in state weather reports and our weather is rarely mentioned in newspaper or television reports outside the area. Thirty-two Kentucky airports, many of them smaller than ours, have automated observation stations. In addition, installation of an automated station would improve the marketability of our airport as it would make it a 24-hour facility. The Federal Aviation Administration should be pressured to live up to a commitment made in 2000 to install an automated weather station.
Fred Reeves, former executive vice president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Chamber of Commerce, said in a Messenger-Inquirer interview, “This gives us a shot at making The Weather Channel. Jackson and every place else seems to have a weather station. Being on the map is significant.”
Bowling Green, Covington, Frankfort, Jackson, Lexington, London, Louisville, Paducah, and Sturgis have the advanced Automated Surface Observation System. Ashland, Bardstown, Cadiz, Campbellsville, Danville, Elizabethtown, Flemingsburg, Georgetown, Glasgow, Gilbertsville, Greenville, Hazard, Henderson, Hopkinsville, Jamestown, Madisonville, Mayfield, Mount Sterling, Middlesboro, Murray, Pikeville, Prestonsburg and Somerset have Automated Weather Observation System III.
Owensboro airport manager Tim Bradshaw pointed out the economic development benefits in a newspaper interview. “Commercial and charter flights are required by law to have the latest local weather information before they take off … Our control tower provides limited weather information between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. But this information will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week ... It improves our marketability” as it essentially makes the Owensboro airport a 24-hour facility.
In the past year since this was first written, the Owensboro Weather Station has been put into service. We have also been successful in having the National Weather Service Office in Paducah add Owensboro to its Regional Temperature and Precipitation Summary and in having the Louisville weather-service office add Owensboro to its State Temperature and Precipitation Summary.
We are still attempting to get a Preliminary Climatology Data Report issued for Owensboro and we must launch a campaign across the state to persuade Kentucky newspapers and television stations to include the Owensboro weather in round-ups, not Evansville weather.
River Gauge at Downtown
Since the destruction of Dam #46, there has been no river gauge listing for Owensboro in the newspaper or on television, further keeping us “off the map.” In addition, because Owensboro is 20 and 35 miles from the nearest dams, the river level fluctuates greatly, partly causing large-scale erosion of Yellow Bank Island during the past 30 years. Fifteen Ohio River cities do not have gauges associated with dam sites, including Ashland, Paducah, Evansville and Mount Vernon. As part of the riverfront development a river gauge should be installed with a monitoring agreement with the Corps of Engineers.
What would be the cost? According to a 2004 newspaper story the installation of an automated river gauge at Fredericksburg, Va. was $10,000.
The U.S. Geological Service announced that it was shutting down 11 automated gauges primarily in Eastern and Southern Kentucky unless local governments paid for the annual monitoring cost. According to the geological service, the annual cost to operate a standard continuous streamflow station is $12,500 while the cost to operate a continuous water-quality monitor equipped with four or five parameters is $25,000. A gauge height-only monitor may be significantly less expensive.
In addition to an Ohio River gauge, the city and county may want to pursue the placement of a gauge on Panther Creek.
Interstate Highway to Owensboro
For years, national surveys of manufacturers have consistently cited “interstate highway access” as a top site selection factor. As a result, for the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of new U.S. manufacturing operations have located in interstate-served communities. In Alabama, the average distance to an interstate for both Mercedes and Honda suppliers is 3.2 miles. Owensboro is the sixth largest metropolitan area east of the Mississippi not on a current or proposed interstate. A concerted community effort should be placed to upgrade the parkways to interstate spurs of I-65/1-66 and I-69.
In a newspaper story a former recruiter for Owensboro said that “industrial prospects and their site selectors often require sites to be within 25 miles of an interstate.”
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently completed an overview of the conditions on the Western Kentucky and Pennyrile parkways and a preliminary cost estimate for minor upgrades and safety improvements to interstate standards for I-69. The costs were approximately $1.5 million per mile. Given the conditions on the Audubon and Natcher Parkways the cost estimate to bring them to interstate standards would be $35 million and $135 million each.
A study of upgrading the parkways to interstate spurs should be undertaken, by local governments, if necessary, to push this project along.
Rebrand Four-Year Public Education
In addition to lack of an interstate highway, the lack of a four-year public university has been cited as a hindrance to high-quality economic development. The presence of Owensboro Community & Technical College and Western Kentucky University on U.S. 231 creates the ability to produce a de facto four-year public university. The 102 acres on U.S. 231 should be renamed or “rebranded” the Owensboro University Center.
The model of the Gwinnett University Center in Georgia and the University Center in the Mountains in Hazard should be modified to fit Owensboro and Kentucky education requirements. The Owensboro University Center’s core mission would be as an innovative center for high-tech learning. The Center would offer higher education courses and degree programs that are focused on the ever-changing educational needs of the citizens and businesses of Daviess County and its immediate area.
It would not be a stand-alone university, but a consortium of institutions of higher learning that have come together in partnership to meet the ever changing educational needs of our community. Founding academic partners would be Western Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky Graduate Center and the Owensboro Community and Technical College. Other entities such as the University of Louisville and private colleges may join as we identify the current and future needs in our community and the educational gaps that need to be addressed.
The key to the ultimate success of the Owensboro University Center will be the establishment of public and private partnerships. Owensboro and Daviess County governments have extended a donation of land and infrastructure improvements for the campus that is valued in excess of $1 million. The state of Kentucky has invested more than $29 million in public funds to construct the campus. Although the public resources have been generous, to respond to the expansive educational needs in Daviess County at the pace at which they are developing, we are going to need to rely upon significant private resources.
If we rely solely upon state dollars, we will have another traditional academic institution like most. Our vision should be far more expansive than traditional and it would be private dollars that would make the difference.
Owensboro is one of the largest cities in the nation without a commercial television station. In the era of the only three national networks it was somewhat understandable that Owensboro would not have a station. However with FOX, WB and UPN setting up national network programming many “fringe” cities like Owensboro have commercial stations. In Kentucky, Bowling Green has two stations (NBC, FOX), Campbellsville/Louisville one (WB), Danville/Lexington one (FOX), Hazard one (CBS), Hopkinsville one (Independent), Madisonville/Evansville one (WB), Morehead one (PAX), Newport one (FOX), and Paducah two (NBC, WB). Of particular note is the fact that Madisonville’s station – Channel 19 – was originally assigned to Owensboro.
Local leaders should approach South Central Communications (owners of WAZE) or Communications Corporation of America (owners of WEVV) in Evansville about “relocating” their station to Owensboro and “renaming” it WOWB. In addition, a news studio could be located in Owensboro to broadcast a local “Kentucky” newscast with the assistance of Paxton Media personnel in Owensboro and Madisonville. (Paxton Media Group owns the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer and the Madisonville Messenger.)
With the exception of upgrading the parkways to interstate status, these five objectives need little up-front money. They do require a united community not settling for second-rate status and a desire to change how we look at ourselves.