Community

The economic development wing of Louisville Metro government credits itself with bringing about 3,500 jobs to town and nearly $500,000,000 in local investment since its creation 10 months ago.

That work has earned Louisville Forward a nod on Monday from Site Selection Magazine as a top U.S. economic development group. The magazine, which focuses on corporate real estate strategy, each year compiles a list of the top economic development groups in the country’s largest metro areas, according to a press release from the magazine.

Criteria is two-fold, said Patty Rasmussen, senior editor of Site Selection Magazine and author of this year’s list.

She said the number of new jobs, new jobs per 10,000 residents, new investment amount and new investment per 10,000 residents are all taken into account. The “creativity of the economic development strategy of the group” is also considered, Rasmussen said.

“Anyone looking at Louisville in the last year could obviously say (Louisville Forward) has done a very good job,” she said. “They’ve managed to attract some really key projects to Louisville.”

Louisville made the list alongside Charlotte, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Cincinnati and Nashville—each of which are considered to be a peer city of Louisville’s.

So, what does this recognition mean for the people of Louisville?

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, said the national nod is “an affirmation of the job creation efforts that are going on in this city.”

She said there are now 40,000 more jobs in Louisville than in 2011 and she touted the city’s 5 percent unemployment rate as “the equivalent of full employment.”

A 5 percent unemployment rate in Louisville for March 2015 means about 31,000 people are unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But Wiederwohl said “there are jobs to be had.”

In the past 12 months the employment rate has increased 3.8 percent—an increase that led to nearly 23,000 people finding a job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And Louisville Forward is looking to continue that trend, she added.

“We can always do better,” she said.

Wiederwohl said “a great number of projects” are coming but wouldn’t specifically say what they are.

Attracting jobs, she said, is two parts—tactical and strategic.

Tactical moves include embedding into the community of corporate site selection—including getting the attention of Site Selection Magazine, Wiederwohl said.

“This is what the site selectors read, they see Louisville on there and go, ‘Hmm, let me go think about Louisville. What’s available in Louisville?'” she said.

Wiederwohl said city leaders work to showcase the “parks, arts, bike lanes, those things,” to potential investors.

And events like the Kentucky Derby, she said, are big time sellers for potential employers wanting to relocate.

“We had a couple dozen guests in this weekend from out of the city,” she said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer last year hosted officials from Omni Hotels for the Derby, he said. Those same officials are now planning on a near $300 million development in downtown.

Events like the Derby are an “important step on the journey” to economic vitality, Fischer said.

Fischer wouldn’t name the companies that were hosted at this year’s race.

Rasmussen said corporations are all looking for cheap land and economic incentives, but they pay extra attention to workforce and livability—factors that include restaurants, parks, bike lanes, real estate.

“All that stuff matters,” she said. “And it matters to companies.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.