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Fort Campbell initiative gets funding

In the aftermath of a funding announcement for an initiative targeting Fort Campbell, Jason Vincent, executive director of the Pennyrile Area Development District, said he predicts positive results from the Fort Campbell Strong economic growth plan.

Officials recently received word that the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment has awarded a $1.7 million community adjustment assistance grant to PADD that will support Fort Campbell Strong and its efforts to reach out to the military post.

The Fort Campbell initiative includes a two-pronged approach, with most of the grant funding to be used to purchase equipment to enhance workforce development for three colleges in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Remaining funds will support the creation of a regional defense alliance to serve as a unified voice for matters involving the military post at local, state and national levels and to grow the numbers of soldiers seeking jobs with employers in the region after leaving the military.

Vincent said the total cost of the project is $2.2 million, including matching funding from the six Kentucky and Tennessee counties involved in the initiative.

In addition to Christian County, those six counties are Todd and Trigg counties in Kentucky and Montgomery, Stewart and Robertson counties in Tennessee.

Vincent said he thinks the equipment purchase will happen within the next six to eight months. The equipment will be utilized by Hopkinsville Community College in the local community and by the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Austin Peay State University in neighboring Tennessee.

The defense alliance is in its formative stages, the director said, and is currently drafting bylaws and articles of incorporation. He said officials hope to have the bylaws adopted and the alliance put in place by the end of December. A board will then be created under the new bylaws, and the next step is to hire an executive director for the alliance, according to Vincent.

That new director should be in place by early next year.

“We just look forward to the successful completion of both phases of this,” Vincent said. “I think we’re going to see some positive results from this endeavor.”

He noted that the equipment phase of Fort Campbell Strong will be a one-time effort to enhance and expand advanced manufacturing education in the region.

Funding for the defense alliance will support the organization for two years, and officials are hopeful the alliance will then be sustained in the local community.

Plans for Fort Campbell Strong began coming together in 2015,   prompted by the inactivation in 2014 of the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. That inactivation resulted in a loss of 2,500 soldiers at Fort Campbell, and the Office of Economic Adjustment approached the Christian County Chamber of Commerce about an economic diversification study and provided grant funds for it.

Vincent pointed to the impact Fort Campbell has economically and in other ways in the region, and he noted that there is a lot of support for the military post.

He said the defense alliance will focus primarily on economic and workforce development issues, and Vincent said he can see the group trying to bring more defense-related contracts into the community.

“We have a strong focus right now on transitioning military, and this is just really going to be another tool in the tool box (in terms of) working with that,” he said.

The director lauded the regional partnerships and collaborative efforts that made the grant funding possible, mentioning in particular the work of officials on the federal level including Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. James Comer of Kentucky and Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

He noted that there’s been a wonderful effort of officials from both states, and Vincent said he believes those shared efforts are forming the building block for some other things to occur.

“We’re extremely excited about this opportunity, not only because it supports Fort Campbell and the surrounding community, but because it’s a bi-state effort,” he said.

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