KY PATH is taking charge of our region’s economic future. This multiphase and multi-stakeholder initiative will focus on training local talent for high-tech and remote jobs and developing innovative technology right here in Eastern Kentucky.
As the world’s population continues growing rapidly, the agritech industry is poised to provide sustainable solutions to fulfill the increasing need for healthy, fresh food. Our region already has the talent, grit, and skills for advanced manufacturing jobs — which is why government and industry leaders are collaborating to position Eastern Kentucky as a global agritech hub.
KY PATH positions Eastern Kentucky communities at the center of its plans. To succeed, new and existing residents must be excited to live, work, and play here.
If we do, it’ll attract businesses to move here and startups to grow in place. And we all know the Eastern Kentucky economy needs just that.
This is why it’s so important that our local leaders invest in community placemaking.
It might not sound like industry development and community placemaking have much in common. But Eastern Kentucky needs both to thrive.
Let’s explore the role that community placemaking has in the economic future of Eastern Kentucky, who’s leading the way, and how local leaders can kick off their efforts.
What is community placemaking?
Community placemaking combines carefully planned efforts to transform downtowns, main streets, and commercial hubs into desirable spaces and experiences that encourage gathering, connection, and a sense of solidarity.
The desired result brings a local culture, identity, and vision for the future to life — and helps locals and tourists to deepen their relationships with that place.
Community placemaking involves several moving parts and relies on the expertise of many professionals. Urban designers, entrepreneurs, local business associations, artists, technology providers, advocates, and town leaders can all play a role.
The objectives of community placemaking often include:
- Making a community destination, such as a town square or promenade, more accessible, walkable, and connected
- Supporting the launch and ensuring the survival of local small businesses
- Promoting artists and creative endeavors
- Encouraging innovation
- Increasing tourism
- Making civic and social participation accessible and appealing
When organizing a community placemaking initiative, each project should contribute to one or more big-picture objectives. The types of projects that can help drive towards these outcomes could be:
- Expanding sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit options
- Constructing green spaces, parks, and other aesthetic gathering areas
- Offering co-working spaces
- Facilitating public events
- Providing public WiFi
- Designing and installing themed signage
- Improving safety features such as upgraded crosswalks, pedestrian signals, and streetlights
- Sponsoring creative programs and initiatives, such as community murals
- And more
Community placemaking should support community well-being, pride, and a sense of identity within public spaces. Individually, these events and projects can have an impact. But pulled together as a well-organized plan, they can be transformative.
Eastern Kentuckians deserve to feel proud of where they’re from. When towns, counties, and regions invest in community placemaking, it tells residents that their sense of pride is valuable.
But you might be wondering what else community placemaking can do for Eastern Kentucky. The answer lies with economic development, attracting a new industry, and diversifying our residents’ career opportunities.
Placemaking’s effect on regional economies
Community placemaking doesn’t just provide benefits to individual well-being. It also has a stimulating effect on regional economies.
Regional economic development efforts aim to bring in businesses that can provide plentiful jobs and pave the way for communities to thrive. When more residents are gainfully employed, it initiates a ripple effect that creates positive economic momentum. Small businesses can rely on a strong local customer base, demand grows for hospitality businesses, and home ownership increases, among others.
Community placemaking is an early part of this equation. This means — you can’t wait for the businesses to come to you. Community placemaking will help you draw them in.
Established businesses and startups alike will consider several factors before deciding to set up shop in an area. They’ll look for measures that indicate a community is desirable to live in — because they’ll need to reliably count on a local talent pool for the in-person jobs they need to fill.
Community placemaking can help transform Eastern Kentucky towns into desirable places to spend time, settle down, start new careers, and operate businesses. We already have an affordable way of life, which is a huge plus. But other amenities, such as broadband and vibrant downtowns, are absolutely essential to the process, too.
If we invest in community placemaking, there’s a stronger chance that businesses large and small will want to locate themselves and expand here.
While the idea of placemaking may sound daunting, know that you can start small. One-day events and collaborative programs can help you get an early win — and build momentum for larger, strategic initiatives over time.
Get started with these creative placemaking ideas for Eastern Kentucky
Rural towns across America use creative placemaking to highlight what makes them unique.
Creative placemaking — a subset of community placemaking — unites local artists, families, and creatively-inclined people in intentional ways. It hones in on art and experiences to portray a local identity. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to placemaking.
The goal of creative placemaking should be to foster a sense of community. While you may be able to launch a project via a single-day event, the effects can extend much longer.
For example, a mural painting initiative can bring in local artist(s) to transform a prominent outdoor wall into a long-lasting piece of community art.
Or, a one-day porchfest can transform your community’s front yards and porches into music stages, counting on the contributions of volunteer bands and performers.
If you wish to plant a seed for artistic activities in your community, consider organizing a community-oriented, creative workspace that breathes new life into a vacant building. Identify a partner who can donate space for remote workers, artists, families, and new residents to gather and create.
Meet Eastern Kentucky’s placemaking partners: Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and Leadership Kentucky
As we prepare for a new industry to move in, we must acknowledge that this transition will mean new friends and neighbors are moving in, too.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky will help steward a successful transition for families and individuals relocating to our region.
The organization serves Southeastern Kentucky with 8 affiliates in 12 counties, and their Appalachian Impact Fund (AIF) has a vision for Eastern Kentucky. They provide grants to help us grow as a network of unique, thriving local economies, celebrate our natural and cultural assets, and provide opportunities for all residents.
The AIF is big on ensuring the ownership and maintenance of these assets remain rooted in local communities. This approach will be pivotal for our long-term success.
They also provide grants for well-thought-through community placemaking programs directly tied to economic development opportunities.
Local governments should consider developing their community placemaking plan and partnering with the AIF to bring it to life.
Leadership Kentucky is another nonprofit organization that helps individuals take an active role in advancing opportunities for Kentucky residents.
Leadership Kentucky will be launching the People Ready Inclusive Communities Program Pilot — and solidifying placemaking as a part of KY PATH’s plan for the region.
The pilot program’s goals include supporting a diverse workforce in Eastern Kentucky and enabling our communities to continue evolving. Most of all, it’ll help ensure Eastern Kentucky is a place that welcomes new people, includes them in our culture, and helps families build their lives here.
Eastern Kentucky’s placemaking partners include you, too. Local leaders should begin to take action by assembling stakeholders, creating a placemaking plan, and applying for grant opportunities to fund it.
Checklist: Brainstorming ideas for your community placemaking plan
- Inventory your natural and cultural assets. These may include trails, historical events, food, music, event venues, or existing public spaces in need of some TLC and programming.
- Examine how you can improve or elevate your existing assets. Consider using a mix of public and private investment, volunteer hours, and other resources to start your first project.
- Identify gaps in central community areas. Transforming these spaces could come down to broadband access, livening up public gathering spaces, forming a transportation network, or launching cultural events.
- Seize opportunities to stimulate small business and entrepreneurship growth. Consider offering grants and incentives if you want to see local business owners participate in community placemaking. If you need more local entrepreneurs in your area to help make your town more vibrant, contact SOAR Innovation to start building connections.
Take a look at these placemaking success stories in Kentucky for additional inspiration.
Conclusion: Invest in your community through placemaking grants
KY PATH is currently in an early stage — which means you can be one of the first communities to reach out with your placemaking plans and apply for funding.
While the AIF and other organizations can help fund your placemaking program, first, you need to learn how to develop a competitive grant application.
Download the Grants 101 Playbook for a step-by-step guide on creating and optimizing grant applications for your organization.
Contact SOAR to learn more about developing a community placemaking plan to support KY PATH and the future of our regional economy.