A season of change
Business View Magazine interviews Kevin Cotton, Mayor of Madisonville, Kentucky for our focus on Growth & Economic Development in U.S. Cities
Many regard Madisonville, KY, which serves as the seat of Hopkins County and the commercial seat of the Western Kentucky Coal Fields Region, along Interstate 69, as “the Best Town on Earth.” That powerful slogan is, in fact, one that the City takes much pride in because of what it reflects of the numerous community-minded and community-invested initiatives. The heritage that has been passed down generation to generation, from administration to administration, is one of devotion and dedication to our community and citizens.
“I’ve been Mayor since 2019,” says Kevin Cotton, a man who’s spent his entire career serving the public interest. Perhaps one of the greatest of these is serving alongside his wife as foster parents within their community. “I took office on January 3rd, 2019. Since that day, I’ve put a lot into different infrastructure projects, looking at the quality of life and housing concerns. Prior to Covid-19, our unemployment rate was ranging in the low fours, which is extremely low for our area, and a record low for the City of Madisonville.”
Cotton’s disciplined focus on revitalization and redevelopment has proven that it’s always possible to make a significant impact, even in the midst of crisis. It’s one of the big reasons why his office was voted City Government of the Year by the Kentucky League of Cities in 2019; and why Madisonville is classified as one of the safest cities in Kentucky. “We’ve witnessed a reduction in crime by 20 percent from 2018 to 2019,” says Cotton. “This year versus last year, we are looking at a 34 percent reduction.”
The Mayor’s approach has been to treat safety and inclusivity as direct influences on the quality of life. Cotton offers Madisonville’s public parks as an example: “We have 770 acres worth of beautiful parks and recreation in our community. We’ve spent an enormous amount of time, effort, and resources to ensure that we’re providing the best outdoor recreation possible,” he explains. “We were just able to complete a project at Festus Claybon Park. We were able to put in a new playground made with 90,000 recycled plastic jugs. The playground is inclusive, meaning it encourages and enables disabled and non-disabled children to engage with one another in play and discovery. Our Public Works department trained on how to lay the rubber to reduce the cost to the City, while providing a safe play zone for the playground. LED lighting was installed to make the playground visible and safe for the community’s use and enjoyment.”
In keeping with the Mayor’s mission of enhancing the quality of life for the community, another park project will soon be underway at Mahr Park Arboretum. A $1.3 million playground is being planned for Mahr Park, a 265-acre farm owned by the late Dr. Merle and Mrs. Glema Mahr that was gifted to the City of Madisonville in 2009. The park offers a variety of services for the community to enjoy, such as championship disc golf course, walking trails, ponds for fishing, bike & kayak rentals, a community garden, hiking trails, and so much more. The new playground will be a welcome addition to this already beautiful park. “It’s not just your average playground, as this playground is a nature-based play area, which allows children to learn about the outdoors through play and exploring the world around them. Every color, texture, transition has purpose and meets a need of developing a beautiful, inclusive sensory play area for all children.” Another exciting development within the park is the construction of a new Event Center. “We are already receiving many calls inquiring about rentals on the new Event Center. It is nestled in the heart of the beautiful rolling hills of Mahr Park with incredible 14-foot tall, glass roll-up doors to have the option to bring nature into the venue. It is going to be a wonderful asset for our community.”
From a fire safety perspective, the City of Madisonville is also a secure place to fight fires, thanks to its four fully-staffed fire stations. “We have an ISO rating of two,” says Cotton. “Number one is the lowest that you can get. Because of this low rating, residents of Madisonville pay lower insurance premiums than those living in surrounding communities.”
Madisonville also provides all its utilities and even provides water and sewer services to surrounding communities. “We’re wrapping up our engineering for a major sewer project,” he adds. “The project is coming in roughly around $9 million for an interceptor sewer that will allow for more growth, not just within our City, but the county, as well.”
The City’s Public Works Department also runs a recycling program that offers curbside collection. “We have a transfer station that was put into play – something that our City Administrator, Robert Janes, was working on as he entered into the office,” Cotton continues. “That project is now finalized. What that transfer station allows us to do is reduce our carbon footprint to the landfill. We’re saving close to $200,000 per year.”
With a population nearing 20,000, the City mostly developed along the lines of a bedroom community, except for an elite set of significant employers, including Madisonville Community College, Baptist Health, and Fortune 500 manufacturers like Berry Global. “We have one of the best community colleges you will find,” says Cotton. “It offers a lot of 2 + 2 programs. We have state-of-the-art nursing programs here, mining programs, business and marketing programs – a huge workforce opportunity here with the College.” On March 12th, the College received its final approval for a helicopter program.
“We also have regional healthcare with Baptist Health,” adds Cotton. Baptist Health Madisonville is a 410-bed acute and skilled care facility with special emphasis on community outreach and training students to provide medical care in rural areas. “We have state-of-the-art cardiology programs, the Mahr Cancer Center, and the Owensboro One Health Medical Group. We are the healthcare hub for nine counties.”
There’s likely no other place of Madisonville’s size in the state that possesses such diversity of essential manufacturing industries. “We have GE Aviation, which make the blades for military helicopters. We have Land O’ Frost, which is a food processing plant. They manufacture a large portion of the company’s deli meats. We have Integrated Metal Solutions (IMS), which makes refrigeration parts that are found in almost every refrigerator across the nation. International Automotive Components (IAC) makes headliners for Lexus and Toyota. Ahlstrom Filtration Inc. is here, making oil and air filters. UPS Logistics runs a hub out of Madisonville. We have Webstaurant Store (Clark Industries), which is a massive restaurant supply company that’s all online. And then, we have Berry Plastics. If you go to McDonald’s, you will see new lids on their cups, which all come from Madisonville, KY. Anything that you order from Carhartt online is just north of Madisonville in our neighboring community of Hanson.”
“So, we have industry,” Cotton recaps. “And we are always looking to expand our industrial base. We’re located in one of the heartlands of Kentucky – you can get anywhere you want to go in a day’s drive. We are close to Atlanta, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Louisville. We’ve got quite a bit of logistics capabilities here in the community. Interstate-69, which cuts right through the heart of our City has just been designated in the past few years, and that’s been a big benefit to Madisonville.”
The City also boasts a historic district concentrated around the intersection of Center and Main Streets. In all, it’s an 11-acre commercial site that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a big uptick and a lot of upgrades to our downtown area,” says Cotton. “We have downtown living, and we’ve just approved a new ordinance to allow for another development in that area with a mixed-use neighborhood district. It will have retail and residential, as well as cottages that are going to be scattered throughout the property – all within walking distance. This will actually be next door to what’s called the Innovation Station. The Innovation Station is a really neat facility here in Madisonville. It was originally a train station that has been converted into a very low-cost, co-working office space where our Economic Development is housed. The City was gifted this building, and we’ve poured about $750,000 worth of upgrades to it. You can rent that space for as little as $10 per month, up to $50, depending on how much space you need. It provides you with everything from telephone and internet services to office supplies.”
Construction is well underway on an exciting venture in the same area called the Maker’s Space. The state’s Economic Development arm offered the City of Madisonville a grant to develop this incredible facility, similar to Innovation Station, in that it will, for a monthly fee, rent out the tools necessary for hobbies like woodworking, textiles, 3-D printing, mechanics, and CNC machining. “You will be on a membership,” Cotton explains. “So, you will pay a low monthly fee, and you’ll be able to block off a certain length of time on each piece of equipment. That gives you the ability to have an office space right across from where you’re living, and a workspace on the other side of the development that allows you to do your textile crafts, metal working, or 3-D printing.”
In summing up the community’s attributes and powers of attraction, Cotton says, “It’s a great atmosphere right now, particularly for the younger generation, to move in and be part of the City of Madisonville.” There is a long list of features that people seek when choosing a new community to be apart of, and Madisonville checks many of those boxes. From great schools, a close-knit community, safety, jobs, short commuting times, an increase in the current value of housing, and plans for future development, Madisonville prides itself in offering these and so much more to its citizens.
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AT A GLANCE
What: The seat of Hopkins County; population nearing 20,000
Where: Along the 1-69 in the Western Kentucky Coal Fields Region