HAZARD — A local business owner made an appeal to the Perry County Fiscal Court this week in an effort to bring more jobs and industry to Perry County.
Joey Stidham, who is originally from Perry County but currently lives in Leslie County and owns Stidham Reconstruction and Investigations, made a presentation about changes that could be made to the Coal Fields Industrial Park in Chavies to improve the park’s chances of attracting businesses to the area.
During the August 21 fiscal court meeting, Stidham came with a binder full of ideas for building Perry County back after being severely affected by the slowdown of coal sales and the national economic recession. By investing funds now in projects that make business easier in the region, Stidham hypothesized that the county could see considerable growth.
This has been seen to work in other areas such as Bowling Green and Pikeville, he said.
“The city of Pikeville has grown from nothing to something that is scandalous,” said Stidham.
Stidham started his career as a State Police trooper in Pikeville in 1990. Since then, the city of Pikeville and Pike County have worked to expand major roads through the county. These large investments have paid off with growth in industry, and especially in the medical field.
Perry County has also worked to make appeals for businesses to come to the area. Officials had seen some success in attracting businesses, but difficulty in keeping them. Part of this difficulty has come from the accessibility of the region and difficulty in shipping items made in Perry County to other parts of the country. Stidham said that if a train track could be brought to industrial areas or a road to a train track, then ease of shipment could help get more industries into Perry County.
“The fact is that that the U.S. government says that 42 percent of the freight is sent by rail, and only 21 percent of that is what we produce, coal,” said Stidham.
Currently, the Coal Fields Industrial Park has only a few active businesses after many of them have closed. While there is a good amount of flat land, the road getting to the park is steep and difficult for large equipment to climb. Stidham proposed building a new road specifically for heavy equipment and trucks that would lead to a train loading area in Chavies.
Lumber yards are an example of Eastern Kentucky areas using natural resources to create products to ship across the nation, and Stidham cited one in particular that he has visited.
“That lumber yard not only cuts raw logs, they put them in a kiln they dress then and then they load a million board feet a month on a train, and they ship it to their warehouse in California,” he noted.
Another option for the industrial park would be to use the land for a slaughterhouse and then transport the meat by railway to different areas. Stidham said that money has been made available for similar projects that can employ people in several areas of the process.
“Roy Collins, he is on the state agriculture commission. They give away money to farms,” said Stidham. “They just gave $400,000 to Wolfe County to build a slaughterhouse. We can raise hogs and we can raise cattle on abandoned strip mines. We can do it well.”
Along with making improvements to the industrial park, Stidham’s plan includes working the airport into better connection with the park. The airport lacks around 4,000 feet of length to land large commercial jets.
“In Atlanta they are landing them at 6,800 feet, that is real close to what we have straight across the road in the industrial park,” said Stidham. “FedEx has built their distribution center their.”
Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble said that they have been waiting for a coal company to mine out the area to build the additional runway, though it has been nearly 10 years and the coal company has not moved into the area. Noble said UPS had indicated that the company would build the hub there as long as the runway is made to fit their planes.
“Judge, there is a lot of money out there for the right project,” Stidham said, adding that he believes the county could build the runway without the help of the coal company.
Stidham said that with grants and federal funding, many of the projects he is talking about could be made possible with little money spent by the county. However, if the funding can’t be made available it would still be worthwhile to put money in to get the money out.
According to Noble, $18.4 million that was spent on bringing Trus Joist into Perry County was easily paid back in taxes despite the short time they were in the county. Stidham cited this as being an example of how putting money into a risk like these projects can pay off in the long run for the county.
“One thing I see is my home declining because of coal,” said Stidham about the slowdown in coal sales that has led to thousands of layoffs. “But I also see an immense opportunity for us to grow.”
Following Stidham’s presentation, the fiscal court voted to put efforts into cleaning up the over grown areas of the industrial park to help make the area more desirable to companies. They have also agreed to look into these projects and see what would be feasible for the county.