Originally appeared in The News-Enterprise | September 20, 2023
Highlights of the study to determine the economic impact of BlueOval SK on Hardin County were released last month and the full report now is available for public consumption.
With that comes time for action on the study’s recommendations by local officials and leaders as they prepare for a potential population spike of 22,380, giving rise to Elizabethtown becoming the fifth largest city in Kentucky.
The 208-page report, commissioned by the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, included suggestions for the community as it prepares for the 5,000 jobs attached to BlueOval SK, the joint venture between Ford and SK On that is constructing twin plants to produce electric vehicle batteries in Glendale. The project, once complete in 2025, will be in the top 10 for largest manufacturing facilities in the world.
The study recommendations are far reaching such as a new regional transit system, grow the Elizabethtown Regional Airport-Addington Field, 75 more staffed hospital beds with 389 new hospital jobs, possible annexation by the city of Elizabethtown, elimination of height restrictions on Elizabethtown buildings to allow for denser development, planning of appropriate utility expansion and a possibility of a unified government.
The first task at hand is to prioritize those recommendations, Chamber President and CEO Margy Poorman said.
“We are still working on those,” she said, adding about 30 community leaders just concluded a meeting on study prior to the public release of the report. “With the community leaders, both public and private, on part of the steering committee, we’re hearing some great ideas on ways we can take those recommendations an prioritize them and what we can do to quote several people in the room to ‘thrive or survive.’ ”
The arrival of BlueOval SK provides for opportunity, said Luke Schmidt, a Hardin County native who is president of the organization hired to conduct the study.
“Certainly all of this presents an opportunity for the cities and the county to look at their existing design guidelines and determine if any kind of reset or tweaking is necessary,” Schmidt said.
The first priority as local business man Carl Swope sees it is to welcome those coming to help standup the new corporation.
“One of the most immediate priorities right now is to understand the first wave of new people coming to Hardin County are going to be Korean,” Swope said. “So we have some opportunities to embrace that community, to provide what it is that the Korean community is looking for, whereas it’s not real specific in this study, per se, I think that is the first thing we’re going to be dealing with here in Elizabethtown, Hardin County and around the Glendale area.”
Hardin County Judge-Executive Keith Taul said he feels the group is “tracking,” but he is feeling “additional responsibility of some of the infrastructure needs.”
“The priority was to focus in on what BlueOval SK, the whole site, on the infrastructure needs,” he said, adding although huge, those needs are met. “However, there are, around that site in the Glendale area, there’s already a lot of interest with developers looking … right around that site, and we’re really not ready for it. I wish we were.”
With the Interstate 65 and U.S. 31W corridor “being the perfect place” for ancillary development, Taul said water and other infrastructure isn’t in place to handle industrial needs.
“I think we’ve done a fairly good job of assessing the needs and talking with the right people, stakeholders and Hardin County Water District No. 2. … It’s going to take some time for that to happen and we’re going to have to get the funding to do it.”
In order the get the money for those needs, Taul said he and staff are on the calendars of state-level politicians and cabinet officials.
Infrastructure also is a priority for Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory.
“Elizabethtown’s first priority … to have ability to do all the things we see in that report is to make sure we’re strong in our wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We need to make sure we have the capacity to take the wastewater that’s going to come from not only commercial and industrial development, but residential.”
The study also calls for 8,811 new residential units in the area to support the growth and offers a solution to lift height restrictions on buildings to allow for more density in areas.
It is a solution the city already has started to consider, Gregory said.
“Some of the recommendations (city Director of Planning and Development Joe Reverman) is making to our council and to our administration is exactly that,” Gregory said. “That’s something we’re studying and look at.”
The study comes two years after the announcement of BlueOval SK was locating at the former Glendale megasite with construction continuing on the $5.8 billion investment, the largest in the state’s history.
With that kind of development, Swope said it was important the community have the information it needs to make the right decisions moving forward. Those decisions will be rooted in experience based on information collected from other boom towns in the study.
“This project is a once-in-a-lifetime project for Hardin County and the area,” he said. “We want to lean into this opportunity in a way other communities have. We don’t want to do it the way others have who just survived and wished they had done things differently.
“10 years from now I want to look back and say, ‘I like what I see,’ ” he added.
Now with the study concluded and the baton being passed back to local leaders, Poorman said she is confident goals can be accomplished before the first battery rolls off the line at BlueOval SK in 2025.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve,” she said. “When you look at what BlueOval SK did as a startup organization with two entities coming together, we as a community can certainly implement these recommendations in that timeframe.”
With the study in leaders’ toolbox, Poorman said she is looking forward to the next steps.
“I think we now feel we have the resources to really take this to the next level,” she said. “Without the study, I think we would have been in a very different position, so I’m very excited about the recommendations and excited to see how the leadership takes it from here.”
In the announcement, Poorman said the group is looking for feedback on the report’s recommendations and invited the public to participate.
The full economic impact report and the recommendation feedback survey can be accessed at hardinchamber.com/energystate.