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Taylor County economic turnaround led by John Chowning

A story about leadership, from the inside out, which turned around Campbellsville's post-FTL economy

As Columbia's Industrial Development struggles to produce results, we have a great opportunity to partner and speak with one voice, as neighboring Taylor County did, to restore the economy.

By Linda Waggener

Adair Countians don't have to be reminded how bad things got when Fruit Of The Loom shut down. What is interesting today is how Taylor County has rebounded. Their city is not just back from the devastation of FTLs shutdown, it is back even better. Campbellsville and Taylor County are doing so well economically that they are receiving national attention as a prototype of a community turnaround.

In seven short years Taylor County has
  • Added nearly 3,800 jobs, a net gain of 600 from when FTL left
  • Brought in 13 companies, with no dependency on one single big employer
  • Attracted state and national news coverage because, even though they were worst hit, Taylor Countys economy is back, better than ever.
That kind of success begs the question, Howd they do that?
The question was posed to Billy Joe Fudge, a Columbia citizen who has owned a business in Campbellsville for several years. He said, every good thing happening in Taylor Countys economy has John Chownings stamp on it.

More questions: Might that be the John Chowning who grew up on the Adair-Cumberland County line? John Chowning who attended Lindsey Wilson College and met his wife there? John Chowning who was given less than one year to live -- 11 years ago?

Indeed it is.
The leader of the successful economic turnaround in Taylor County is a young man who should never have been allowed to slip past Adair Countys border into Taylor. It would have been smart to have recognized and recruited the talent when John and Catherine Pence Chowning met as students at Lindsey Wilson College, battling each other for student government leadership.

It was John Chowning who gathered wounded Taylor County individuals together seven years ago in the face of the worst employment crisis in the areas history, and challenged them to:
  • do a realistic community assessment,
  • face their weaknesses and set goals to address them,
  • act as partners in rebuilding, and
  • ignore political differences
Perhaps the people of Taylor County trusted him, knowing that leading the re-building of their economic base would be a walk in the park for a man whod had his very life threatened. When John was diagnosed with incurable Nonhodgekins Lymphoma, he was given approximately one year to live. However, M. D. Anderson had developed a new drug and the FDA released it just at the time John was ready to take the risk. That new treatment, combined with the massive numbers of prayers from his family and congregation, turned his health around. He has been in remission for over a decade.

He was ready for the challenge of leading his hometown in cricis.
There had been no red flags of warning prior to the FTL crisis, so economic development was not a major priority in the lives of most Taylor County residents. Even so, they didnt wait for help to come looking for them, John and six others from the CTC Industrial Development Authority put their shoulders to the wheel. In its inception there were John Chowning as Chairman, George Gupton Vice Chair, Jim Richardson Secretary, Mark Johnson, Bill Chandler, and Chris Reynolds. They would recruit and hire an Executive Director/CEO, Kevin Sheilley, and coin the phrase Team Taylor County, as they brought together the city, the county, the university, the schools and the economic development organizations.

Team Taylor County, would act as a crisis-response team of local business, community and academic leaders, for bringing the county back. Even when they had nothing, they boldly put some stipulations on recruitment efforts, they would not accept one huge single employer this time, and they would not accept polluting firms. They placed a big emphasis on people development.

Realizing thousands of workers would need to be retrained, the county tapped into job-training funds like federal Trade Adjustment Assistance, geared for workers losing their jobs to the negative effects of trade treaties. Campbellsville University and other post secondary schools provided training opportunities.

A technology-training center was created which allows companies to provide customized training. The center works with industry to train employees in a range of technology skills, including several computer- industry certifications. It also provides space for companies to train their employees on new equipment before it is installed.

Funding for the completion of Highway 210 was put in place.

And Team Taylor County partnered with financial organizations like Community Ventures Corporation, a 501(c)3 not for profit based in Lexington with an office in Campbellsville, so small businesses would find capital with which to build.

The recent news coverage comes for the fact that Team Taylor County did exactly what it set out to do. Campbellsvilles economy is thriving.

Strong roots: John's strong family and ministry background may have been the key factor in his success because he says he knew from his fathers farm operation how to read the signs, plant and harvest, and as a Baptist minister, he knew how to gather in the sheaves and help them pray and hold the faith.

He and his brother Joe Chat, sons of Chattin and Elizabeth Brockman Chowning, grew up down highway 704 on one of the most scenic valley farms in Kentucky, nestled in the bend of the Crocus Creek on the border of Adair and Cumberland Counties. John says he learned much from his father who was always involved in quiet leadership in both Adair and Cumberland Counties. He has tried to build on, and to pass on, all he learned in those years.

John and Cathy Chowning have made their home in Taylor County since 1977. Cathy is a licensed physical therapist. They are the parents of four children. Their daughter Kacey and her husband Jason live in Green County and have two children, Jacey, four, and Jacob two. They have triplets who are 23 now: Kaleb works in the CU Tech Training Center, Laura lives in Frankfort where she works in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Emily who is currently in PT school, and is married to Youth Minister and Soccer Coach Jason England.

You will find John during the week in his responsibilities at Campbellsville University as Vice President for Church and External Relations, Executive Assistant to the President, and Political Science Faculty. On Sundays you will find him in his leadership role as Senior Pastor of Saloma Baptist Church.

What's next: While he is retiring from the position of Chairman as the new year begins, John will remain on the CTCIDA board. There are at least two major unfinished goals he wants to continue working with, including the widening of Kentucky 55, (Heartland Parkway) between Springfield and Columbia, and the proposed Heartland Technology and Commerce Park, a 200-acre facility Chowning described as "state of the art", which will be located just south of Campbellsville near The Homeplace.

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This story was posted on 2006-02-01 09:26:54
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John Chowning and the farm where he got first leadership skills

2006-02-01 - Highway 704 - Photo staff. JOHN CHOWNING GOT HIS BEGINNING LEADERSHIP SKILLS growing up on this beautiful farm near where Adair and Cumberland Counties meet on Highway 704. He and his brother still own the farm where they grew up, the children of Chattin and Elizabeth Brockman Chowning. The farm is operated by Mark and Marty Dykes of Adair County. Click 'read more' for the details of John's leadership in Taylor County's economic comeback since Fruit of the Loom's closing.
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