Lawrence County, Kentucky
Like coming home
Business View Magazine interviews Deputy Judge Vince Doty and County Clerk Chris Jobe of Lawrence County, Kentucky for our focus on American Infrastructure.
Lawrence County was formed in 1822 and it is located in the Eastern Coal Field region of Kentucky. This up-and-coming area is currently poised for economic growth with the addition of several new industries and companies. In the midst of forward progress, however, Lawrence County maintains its small-town, Appalachian charm. It is a place of excitement and potential, as well as a haven of peace and tranquility. A popular destination for tourists and locals, Lawrence County is home to Yatesville Lake State Park, Eagle Ridge Golf Course, as well as a host of fine restaurants to satisfy the hunger for good down-home cuisine. In autumn, the hills come to life in a colorful panorama. And in all four seasons, the friendly people of Lawrence County extend an open invitation: “Bring your family here to visit or live. We promise it will be like coming home!”
Created in December 14, 1821 out of Floyd and Greenup counties and named in honor of Captain James Lawrence, Commander of the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812, today, Lawrence County is the third largest county in the state. It has 750 miles of road and the famous Louisa/Fort Gay Bridge, which crosses two rivers, connects two cities and two states, three bodies of land, and has a right turn in the middle of the bridge to SR 3. The County consists of Louisa, the County Seat and only major city (pop. 11,719), as well as a number of delightful smaller communities.
Chris Jobe, Lawrence County Clerk reports, “One of the biggest attributes for us, now, is in the tourism sector. Yatesville Lake, just outside of Louisa, is quite large and offers a lot of opportunities, including Yatesville Lake State Park. It has a wonderful marina and attracts a lot of visitors for fishing and other outdoor recreation. Eagle Ridge Golf Course is located along the lake, in addition to trails for horseback riding and hiking. Being on the Big Sandy River is unique for us because the two forks meet in Louisa right behind the Courthouse. Many years ago it was a means of transportation for tugboats, etc. but now we’re trying to utilize that for recreation opportunities. Fort Gay is right across the river in West Virginia and they’re trying to get people to explore the river, as well. Our Mayor is working on a downtown revitalization that’s called Rediscover Louisa, and he has received a grant for a Riverwalk project that is currently in progress. So, we’re trying to use the assets that are already located here to bring more opportunity.”
Louisa has always been known as a bedroom community, due to there being very little industrial business happening in the County. Outside the city, two natural gas plants, as well as Brown’s Food Service are good employers. And many residents commute to work at the federal prison in Inez, and to Kings Daughters Medical Center, Calgon, and Inco Alloys – all located in Boyd County. With less than an hour to commute to those jobs, Lawrence County is ideal as a safe, quiet community where families can put down roots.
On the business front, a massive former coal plant north of Louisa is now being touted as a prime location for an industrial park. Vince Doty, Deputy Judge of Lawrence County, explains, “The site includes a dedicated rail line access, which is unusual in the area and a great benefit to companies interested in locating there. The County is looking to expand that site and is hoping it will be fully remediated and ready by the end of 2020 for future development. And our County has plenty of natural energy for any type of business, especially when it comes to natural gas.”
Attracting new business is a coordinated effort. One of those alliances is with One East Kentucky, an economic development entity that sponsors nine counties, including Lawrence County. And they’ve been very successful in landing new businesses. SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) is another partner, along with One East Kentucky, that’s looking at the region to find economic opportunities for the region that was hit hard by the downturn of the coal industry. “Currently, we’re serviced by a couple of local providers for fiber,” says Jobe. “And the State of Kentucky is working on Kentucky Wired – that’s an ongoing project to improve connectivity. Our biggest challenge in Lawrence County is to find one or two big new companies. Everyone is competing.”
Meantime, tourism remains a key focus propelled through the efforts of Louisa-Lawrence County Tourism. The crown jewel is Yatesville Lake. Opened in 1992, it is a 2,300-acre reservoir managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake provides flood control for the region as well as recreational opportunities, and the Corps manages a boat ramp at the Rich Creek area. As Doty notes, “Yatesville Lake is a beautiful asset and the County maintains and manages Lawrence County Wilderness Park there. It’s 80-plus acres of lake, cabins, RV sites, camping, a General Store. Everything is available for rent and it brings in around 40,000 visitors a year. Kayaking is really popular and people like our rural roads for cycling.”
Available housing is a definite need in Lawrence County that is a serious topic of local government. Jobe admits, “We are almost at our limit. We have some developers doing subdivisions of single-family homes but more multi-units and apartments are needed. We’re along US 23, within 30 minutes of an Interstate highway, and we have a lot of flat land – more than most other counties in the area, so we’re well positioned for growth. We’re anticipating our population to increase because people like the community and are interested in moving here. It’s a great place to retire and very affordable for families to live here and work elsewhere because of our low taxes. We have a good school district and we have Three Rivers Medical Center.”
The city of Louisa has applied for a grant and is getting ready to do a major downtown sewer upgrade that should start in the summer of 2020. With revitalizing the downtown retail district high on the agenda, the city has already seen several buildings renovated, including the Oak Garden Theater that was recently restored and is open for events. And there is a vast amount of other untapped potential just waiting in the core area. The State also has a significant project on the go – widening Highway 23 that goes out to Yatesville Lake where the County park is located.
Looking to the future, Doty shares, “We’re trying to entice more businesses to locate here. But we’re also putting a real emphasis on attracting families and children, and creating more activities in our communities. We’ve been adding to our County park. We’re also building new soccer fields – it seems like the more activities you have for kids, the more you can attract families. Lawrence County is just a wonderful place to live, work, love.”
Jobe, “I’ve lived here all my life and it’s a great place to raise a family. Most of the families here have been here a long time. It’s a small community with a great atmosphere and everybody knows each other – a lot of good, hardworking people working together for the same goals of improving our community. US 23 is a country music highway, part of a multi-county region, and we have a lot of musical talent that has come from here in Lawrence County and neighboring areas. And that’s one of our highlights that we’re proud of. In the downtown, we have a local weekend festival, September Fest, where some of the performers come back to take part. Music, crafts, and food. It doesn’t get any better!”
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Lawrence County, Kentucky
What: Third largest county in the state; population approx. 15,600
Where: Eastern Coal Field region of Kentucky
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