Story by Lindsey Coleman, Staff writer
On Feb. 15, approximately 120 representatives from the Purchase region traveled to Frankfort, Kentucky, to meet with legislators and cabinet officials in hopes of making the region’s voice heard at an event called Calloway to the Capitol.
Gov. Matt Bevin spoke as the keynote speaker at the luncheon, sessions were held with officials to discuss issues of economy, education and transportation in the afternoon and a dinner wrapped up the evening.
The Paducah, Owensboro and Murray-Calloway County chambers of commerce and its constituency bases were in attendance throughout the day.
Aaron Dail, president and CEO of the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce, said during the afternoon they were able to meet with legislators, cabinet officials and others to discuss their policy thoughts and advocacy efforts.
“They’re very supportive of chambers and our efforts to engage in the statewide conversation,” Dail said.
He said it makes an impact when representatives from this region invest money, resources and time to drive four hours to the capitol in one day to have those meetings.
Dail said they’ve made Frankfort trips before, but this is the first time a Frankfort trip has been branded as Calloway to the Capitol and deemed a community-wide event. He said the chamber wanted to build relationships and make the day count.
“It’s important,” Dail said. “It’s not just about pounding your fist on the table and demanding things, it’s about logically thinking through what is best for Murray and Calloway County, how that fits into the statewide conversation and also how our piece of Western Kentucky puzzle fits together with the rest of the state.“
He said they wanted to empower Sen. Stan Humphries and Rep. Kenny Imes to take data-driven decisions, policy positions and conversations to their constituents.
“The more we can do to help them, the more they can do to help the region we’re in,” Dail said.
He said the number one priority of the day was to emphasize the needed expansion of Highway 641 South. He said the expansion would benefit the Purchase area from both economic and safety standpoints.
Dail said in light of recent education concerns about charter schools at the national level, for this region, taking away money from the successful public schools isn’t the answer.
“That would hurt our local school systems and their ability to produce great leaders and potentially great community leaders,” Dail said.
After meeting with the superintendents of Murray Independent Schools and Calloway County Schools, Dail said they came to the agreement that charter schools aren’t needed in this county. At the Calloway to the Capitol event, Murray-Calloway County representatives voiced these concerns and wanted to protect the funding of local schools.
Dail said he understands other areas may benefit from charter schools, but they don’t want to hurt public schools in order to help charters.
Joe Ben Bogle, chair of the advocacy committee on the Murray-Calloway County Chamber board, said he had the opportunity to discuss workforce development with Secretary of Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Hal Heiner.
“Being a chamber, we rely on our workers, and we want to make sure we have a well-developed workforce that’s available,” Bogle said.
As students graduate from high school, Bogle said it is important for them to be ready to join the workforce through vocational or collegiate programs.
“We are very fortunate to have two high-performing public schools in Murray and Calloway County, and we don’t want to let anything come in that would take resources away from those two school systems,” Bogle said. “What we heard back was that anything that comes out of Frankfort would be subject to local school board approval, and they would give a lot of autonomy to those local school boards to make sure it’s not brought in in the wrong way.”
Natalie Jones, membership engagement coordinator at the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce and junior from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, went on the trip to Frankfort. As a business administration major, she said this experience was a way for her to build valuable relationships for the future.
“In business administration and jobs in today’s world, you have to have something that will set you apart,” Jones said. “Opportunities like participating in Calloway to the Capital, that’s what’s going to set me apart. It’s the network and the relationships that I build with people.”
Kathy Stanfa, chairman of the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce Board, co-owner of Rolling Hills Nursery and senior manager at Saputo Dairy Foods USA, went to Calloway to the Capitol and said she hoped to represent the interests of a wide cross-section of Calloway County, particularly women who juggle full-time jobs with family obligations.
Stanfa said post-secondary education funding is absolutely one of the priorities the chamber supports.
“This visit to the Capitol opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the state budget,” Stanfa said. “There is a finite amount of money allocated to education. If we don’t advocate for Murray State University in Frankfort, we may not receive the resources we need.”
She said she believes the day in Frankfort resulted in a positive impact on the legislative process.
“We cannot step back and expect our legislators to read our minds,” Stanfa said. “It is important to engage in the process and communicate with the people who represent us at the state level.”
She said both Humphries and Imes encouraged the chamber to keep the dialogue flowing and stay in touch with them.
“As a local chamber, we seek to represent our members, and we’re really fortunate to have very engaged members that were willing to spend a very long day representing the community,” Bogle said. “It’s great to have members that are willing to give of their time like that and a community that values that.”