The growth of the London and Laurel community is what local leaders will remember when they think back on 2019 - with the strong hopes that such activity will continue in the coming year.

Laurel County Judge-Executive David Westerfield said the ongoing growth has benefitted both the city and county with new businesses, employment opportunities, and even in residential development.

"There has been continued growth in the city and county in so many different ways," he said. "The housing industry is doing well, new businesses are opening and with every new resident and business, we see an increase in the revenues for the city and county."

The county has received funds to improve and resurface many of the county's roads in 2019 and have plans in place to continue that progress.

Westerfield is also excited about the new Laurel County Correctional Center opening this week.

"They are going to be moving the inmates to the new jail on Jan. 7," Westerfield added. "We've seen so much growth in the past few years and we hope that will continue in the new year and for years after."

The county's growth, according to London Mayor Troy Rudder, is largely due to the cooperation of local leaders who work together to continuously improve the quality of life for residents. Rudder said he is proud of several accomplishments in the past year.

"The number one thing is the Veterans Park, which is used by hundreds of people," Rudder said. "Then we have the New Year's Eve bash that other cities around have started from seeing what we did in a small town. Then there's Town Center development and the Christmas scene we put up there this year, and finally getting Levi Jackson Park for the city."

Rudder added that he is also proud of the annual Bowling Fest, which features the Bowling Family gospel group as well as a talent search.

"This event brings in people from all over the country. It has been so successful that it is expanding to four days this year instead of just three," he said. "It will start on Wednesday this year and continue on through Saturday and we're expecting even more people this year than last year."

Rudder added that he is looking forward to 2020 as another successful year for economic development.

"We have companies and businesses looking at the area and the change of the industrial development authority to include retail has put us in a another category for business development," he explained. "But the biggest part in our success is that the city and the county - or fiscal court - works closely together. You don't have that in most cities and counties. We've built such a close relationship between the city and county and that has helped us bring businesses here and improve the lives of everyone who lives and works here."

Rudder said the coming year will bring the completion of the Town Center project and continued improvements at Levi Jackson Park, as well as what he hopes will be a banner year for new businesses and developments in the city and the county.

Those same sentiments were echoed by Paula Thompson, executive director of the newly renamed London Laurel County Economic Development Authority.

"What an incredible year 2019 has been for London and Laurel County. Not only have we announced several new companies coming to town but many existing businesses added new jobs and expanded their spaces," Thompson said. "The recent activity we are experiencing and the new projects we are working on, indicate that 2020 will be another active year for job creation, business growth and residential movement. "

A major player in that is the recent purchase of the first lot in the Greer Industrial Park off Ky. 1006 that borders U.S. 25-South.

"We have just closed a deal for the first business to build on 20 acres in the Greer Industrial Park. The new company plans to build a 200,000 square foot building for a regional hub. A formal announcement is coming next week," she added. "We also are accepting bids now to build a 60,000 square feet speculative building in the Greer Park to lure another new company to the area."

The future looks bright from Thompson's perspective and she holds hope that the continued success of the community will continue.

"We are amazed at the number of people and companies that we have worked with this year and for the new projects who chose to look at London," she said. "We know 2020 will be another fantastic year!"

Deanna Herrmann, executive director of the London Laurel County Chamber of Commerce, also heralded the business development over the past years.

"We keep having a record number of ribbon cuttings for new businesses," she said. "And there are some new businesses that don't join the Chamber but have had ribbon cuttings. I think all that is definitely a factor in the business success we've seen over the past few years."

Herrmann works with businesses who are members of the Chamber and said their roster of members is continuously growing.

"We average 120 people at our monthly luncheons," she said. "The whole premise of the Chamber is networking and we try to keep people informed on what is going on in Washington and Frankfort so business leaders can see how legislation will affect the business world."

The Chamber of Commerce has multiplex roles for the businesses in the area, including reaching out to existing members as well as recruiting new members.

"We add several new members every month and reach out to others who have been established and maybe have never joined the Chamber before," she said. "We offer discounts to our members and their employees and we also offer insurance discounts to some of our members who might not be able to provide health insurance for their employees.

A major goal that the local Chamber of Commerce is working toward is to become a "Work Ready" certified city in 2020.

"We have already been labeled as a Work Ready in Progress city," Herrmann explained. "You have to meet certain criteria and we have a team of business leaders who are working toward that. We have to show businesses who are looking to come to Kentucky and this area that we are working to get people in the doors of their business and servicing the businesses with a work force once they come here."

That certification will put London and Laurel County in the forefront of business recruiting - and is a goal that Herrmann said is geared to happen by October 2020.

"We have to write a plan to the Cabinet for Economic Development to show them what we are doing to have a Work Ready community," she said. "That certification will be available so when businesses from out of state are looking to locate in Kentucky, they will have a list of cities and counties that are certified Work Ready communities. That way, London and Laurel County will be one of the first ones they look at to locate here."

Herrmann is optimistic about the upcoming year and the role of the Chamber in that continued success.

"Last year in our class, based on the size of our community, we won the Outstanding Website, Outstanding Social Media and Outstanding eNews in the state," she added. "That's how the Chamber works - by networking among the businesses and letting people get to know each other and what's going on in the business world that affects them."

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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