The recent agreement between Western Kentucky University, the Daviess County Fiscal Court, and the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation regarding the expansion of public postsecondary education with a proposed new campus in Owensboro is significant.
It is significant because it provides a new model for the expansion of public higher education in communities like Owensboro that are without state funded four-year universities. The community shaped its own destiny by identifying the gaps in higher education delivery, invited a regional university to partner with the community in meeting its needs, and provided land and financial support for the establishment of a campus. Never before has this been done in the Commonwealth.
The agreement asks WKU to enhance baccalaureate and graduate degree offerings aligned to local workforce and economic development goals in areas such as allied health, applied engineering, the sciences, and business services. WKU has also committed to supporting efforts to stimulate innovation and the commercialization of ideas through applied research partnerships in conjunction with existing and emerging industries.
As the economic development field adapts to meet the needs of an evolving international economy, regions are increasingly touting strengths in skilled labor to attract and retain innovative companies. In fact, many studies of corporate location decisions have shown skilled labor to be such an important asset that many regions have made it a central theme of regional marketing efforts. Innovative companies chose regions with a reliable and flexible supply of local talent.
Regions cannot develop a skilled workforce without investment in the institutions that create and nurture talent such as universities. Staying competitive in the modern global economy increasingly requires a greater capacity for life long learning and skill adaptation.
The Owensboro community has long recognized the significant role and outstanding contribution that institutions of higher education such as Brescia University, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Owensboro Community and Technical College, and Western Kentucky University- Owensboro have had on the economic development of the region thus far; and that increasing enrollment that will come with this opportunity will benefit all by adding to the synergy of students aged 18-25 that chose live in this community to attend college. A rising tide lifts all boats!