Civic Connections: Finance and Economic Development 101
BY AMANDA BLEDSOECOUNCIL MEMBER, 10TH DISTRICT OF LEXINGTON
The Budget, Finance, and Economic Development (BFED) Committee is responsible for being stewards of public funds, assessing the city’s overall financial well-being, and proactively seeking opportunities for economic growth. As chair of this committee since 2018, I have focused on workforce development, small business support, and financial accountability.
In 2015, I started a workforce grant program with the support of council and then-mayor Jim Gray. Through this program, the City of Lexington provides grants to agencies that are diverse in their missions and work plans – agencies that provide services that create jobs and increase payrolls, ensuring economic growth and thereby improving the economic well-being of the community. Grants are focused on the needs of our business community, including business and information, health sciences, manufacturing, transportation, and construction/skilled trades. This partnership generates seven times the dollar investment of the grant program that funds it.
Lexington also partners with economic development agencies to provide economic and workforce development services. The past few years have presented historic challenges and required innovative approaches to keep our financial “house in order”. During the COVID-19 pandemic, BFED oversaw the creation of a $5 million forgivable loan program for small businesses at a time when many sectors of the economy were closed to in-person traffic. Lexington Urban County Council Office endorsed this program, supporting 345 businesses, 35% of which were women-owned and 2% minority-owned. These funds have been critical in helping employers and their workers shoulder the burden of pandemic-related impacts on their businesses. Our preliminary reports indicate that more than 75% maintained or expanded their employment with the support of the grant program.
The BFED committee receives monthly financial updates from the finance team, allowing us to regularly assess the financial situation of the city, monitoring revenues and expenses throughout the year. In January, we hosted Mike Clark, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and associate professor of economics at the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky, to provide the board with the annual economic outlook for the city of Lexington. . Clark and his team play a critical role in determining revenue projections for the upcoming budget process. This information will inform the budget process and discussions related to bonding, US bailout allocations, and other financial discussions.
In late 2021, we implemented a Divisional and Program Review for all City Divisions that will ensure accountability and transparency in operations. As a result of this effort, each committee of council will conduct an in-depth review of each division of municipal government over the next few years.