Imagine planting a tree sapling and tending it to it for the rest of your life knowing you will never live long enough to see the fruit it bears, but also knowing your children and grandchildren will; that's the image Kentucky Lake Economic Development President Josh Tubbs seeded in the minds of attendees at the annual dinner last week. What became evident as part of the evening's presentation is the KLED board members, business leaders and school system in Marshall County are working together with the children in decision-making and calculated actions which will shape the county for generations to come.

"What we do now matters now, but it will also matter in 15, 20, even 70 years from now; patience is a virtue when it comes to economic development," Tubbs told the large crowd. "New and impactful progress has been made and we have planted a sapling with a clear strategy. …We cannot accomplish this mission without your confidence. Just as my parents and grandparents planted trees for me, I'm planting trees for my children and grandchildren."

What Tubbs referred to as 'Operation Taking Root' involves a five-year job creation strategy, created and nurtured not just by the KLED board members, but also by local businesses and the school system. The initiatives include: launching an aggressive marketing strategy structured to achieve measurable capital investment and job creation goals; advocating for quality industrial sites and facilities for new and expanding companies; supporting localized efforts to expand and retain existing employers through an effective and engaging business retention and expansion program.

Tubbs presented data demonstrating effectiveness in strategy: the unemployment rate in Nov. 2010 was 13.4% but in Nov. 2019 was 3.9%; since 2015, Marshall County has seen $237 million in capital investment from 11 projects creating 375 new jobs, not to mention the thousands of retained jobs; since Aug. 2018, KLED has completed 17 requests for information for the Southwest One Industrial Park (SW1) in Benton and the industrial complex in Calvert City; just last year, Marshall County saw more than $52.7 million in capital investment and creation of 135 new jobs from three new projects--United Systems Software and MegaFit Meals in SW1 and Core Scientific in the Calvert City complex.

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett, also a member of the KLED board of directors, said the school district has been interested for some time in learning what they can do as a system to better prepare students for life beyond school and to create the employees businesses need.

He noted the change in philosophy has resulted in the school losing its standing as highest scorers on standardized tests, but said the district is no longer interested in test scores as a sole marker of success.

"A few years ago we were in the top 10 test scores in the state and the number one district in the state. We took a step back and thought, 'What does that mean? Are our kids getting better scholarships than other kids in the state?' And they weren't. It didn't really mean anything," he said. "It meant we were really good at playing the test-taking game. We have not thrown knowledge out the window, but we have decided we want to educate the whole student. We're shaping students who are able and ready to compete for jobs here and around the world."

One of those students is Bryce Flatt, a MCHS senior whose decision to take a construction course at the MCHS Tech Center resulted in him finding his passion and securing a post-graduation career.

Flatt said when he got to high school, he was excited about playing sports and planning for courses which would help prepare him for the ACT; he said his parents are both educators so he had always had the idea he would attend a four-year college after high school. When it was time to choose courses for sophomore year, he said his dad encouraged him to take a construction course to "learn how to do things around the house." That led him to the entry-level electrical course, which is when he realized he wanted to become an electrical engineer--a pathway he hadn't previously considered.

Because of those courses, Flatt said, he was also better able to assist customers at Shop-O-Rama in Draffenville -- he now had a better understanding of hardware and electrical supplies and what customers might need for a variety of jobs. After about a year, he recalled, one of his regular customers invited him to come meet with the owner of Industrial Electrical Solutions in Calvert City to discuss a job opportunity -- he accepted and began this past summer, kickstarting his career.

When the school year rolled around, Flatt said Brian Harper, principal of the tech center, worked with his employers and school schedule so he could complete his co-op hours in the morning, attend classes later in the day and still have afternoons open for football and basketball practice so he didn't have to miss out.

Flatt said his position with Industrial Electrical Solutions has allowed him to help with a number and variety of projects such as the new CFSB (Community Financial Services Bank) in Murray, CC Metals and Alloys, LLC in Calvert City and several residential jobs as well. He's also been tasked with assisting in the management side of operations: pricing jobs, attending safety meetings and board meetings, conducting inventory.

"I've learned tons of great information from the place I work as well as the union electricians on the jobs," he said. "I highly recommend it to anybody."