The guest speaker for the meeting was Gerald Cook. Cook has worked in several chambers across the United States, and according to kentuckyedc.com, he currently is the president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation.
Cook agreed with everyone at the meeting that “something needs to change” in the Bell County area. He made the idea even more concrete when he stated some of the facts about the area.
According to Cook’s facts, the population in the area has decreased in recent years. He stated that the per capita income is approximately $14,000 (Kentucky’s average is $40,000) and that the area has one of the highest unemployment rate in the state.
He also mentioned the fact that about one-third of the county receives a government check.
“Your biggest employer right now is the Federal Government,” said Cook referring to the multiple government checks received within the community.
One thing,said Cook, that has been successful for other chambers that he has been associated with was that each individual entity within those areas worked together. He added that everyone needs to be on the same page.
In other chambers that Cook has been a part of, all entities have been folded under “one roof”. That means that the chamber, economic development, etc. operate together.
The model that Cook presented included organizational development, economic development, tourism development, and community development operated under the chamber of commerce. In the Madisonville and Hopkins areas, the chamber is leaning toward doing the same type of fold.
Folding all the different organizations into one entity would be a long process, according to Cook, but he said that it had worked for all the other communities that he worked for in the past.
When it comes to getting a seat on the board, Cook stated that people did have to invest a certain amount of money in certain organizations. The amount that Cook mentioned was $5,000. He also stated that people paid depending on the size of the community and the area.
This did spark a question from County Judge Executive Albey Brock. “How many would pay $5,000 to have a seat on what you are doing right now,” Brock asked the people sitting in the room.
Many of the people either had no response or slowly began shaking there head no.
Cook also mentioned that the area needed to have more wealth creating business. He stated that a wealth creating business would be a business that made a product and then exported that product. Once the product is sold, money would then be brought back into the community.
The prime examples that Cook mentioned for these wealth creating businesses were Smithfield and the coal companies.
It is business like these that could help the communities as a whole because they are higher paying jobs for the employees, according to Cook.
Cook finished off the meeting by mentioning that everyone in the room was looking for a change, because that was the reason they were there in the first place. That they were all looking for a way to better Bell County.