Council briefed on sweeping plan to lure high-tech jobs
The Versailles City Council spent more than a third of its hour-long meeting Tuesday discussing ways to make Versailles a more tech-friendly environment, with Mayor Brian Traugott saying, “Manufacturing is not the way of the future.” Traugott narrated a PowerPoint display that showed a variety of statistics and goals. An early slide showed that U.S. manufacturing employment is expected to drop by 640,000 jobs from 2018 to 2028. Traugott said while manufacturing has been good for the city, an emphasis on jobs involving computers, mathematics and research will benefit the city and its residents in the long run. Traugott said by the end of the year, Metronet’s high-speed internet service will have transformed Versailles into a gigabyte city – a rarity among towns of its size, and a lure for the type of tech businesses the city wants to attract. Among the possibilities are new incentives for companies that meet certain goals, like paying an average wage of $21.75 per hour, spending at least half a percent of revenue on research and development, and producing zero emissions. Zoning standards could be “relaxed” to promote a campus layout, he said. The county could be invited to take part in the program, and strategic partnerships with Woodford County High School, the University of Kentucky, the City of Lexington, Commerce Lexington, the state Cabinet for Economic Development and Awesome, Inc. could be pursued, he said. Woodford Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper said the incentive plan would not replace that offered by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority or payroll tax cuts for new businesses. “It’s got a lot of merits, it’s got a lot of details to be worked out, but I think if we put the restrictions on it and go after the jobs that really are meaningful, I won’t say that we can create our own Silicon Valley, but we might be able to create some sort of technology pattern here,” Soper said. Soper also said that smaller companies offer students the best opportunity for meaningful apprenticeship programs. Traugott said the council’s Finance Committee could begin to study the various proposals. No action on U-Haul For the second meeting in a row, the council held off on a vote on a zone change via text amendment that would allow U-Haul to offer indoor storage in the old Kmart building. Councilmember Ken Kerkhoff said the participants – U-Haul and Lexington developer Steve Reach – need a little more time, and suggested holding the vote at the council’s April 1 meeting. U-Haul purchased the Lexington Road Plaza, where Kmart and Kroger once operated, for $5.09 million in 2017. The Lexington Road Plaza is in a B-4 district (highway business) and the Board of Adjustment has ruled that indoor storage is not a permitted use in B-4 districts. U-Haul’s critics, including Traugott and the owners of an indoor storage business on Thomas Lane, have said company officials shouldn’t have assumed they could change zoning laws after purchasing the shopping center. In the past, Traugott and some council members have said they’d support a zone change that would allow indoor storage if U-Haul could find a suitable tenant for the old Kroger building. On Feb. 6, the council held a special meeting with U-Haul officials at the Versailles Brewing Company, which is co-owned by Councilmember Gary Jones and is a tenant in the shopping center. At that meeting, Reach said repeatedly that retail tenants want an anchor, and a U-Haul official said the company had listed the property for sale. Resolutions The council voted 5 to 0 (Councilmember Laura Dake was absent) in support of several resolutions involving legislation being considered by the General Assembly – with one exception. Jones took issue with House Bill 480, which, if it became law, would allow cities to pass a 1 to 3 percent tax on restaurant sales. Jones said 85 percent of his customers at the Versailles Brewing Company are local. “You’re putting a tax on local people,” Jones said. “I promise you, if we do this, there will be a tax passed (one day).” Jones voted against the resolution. Another resolution passed asks the state for funds to resurface 1.5 miles of South Main Street, a portion of Elm Street, the U.S. 60 Bypass, Big Sink Pike (aka Sturgill Simpson Way) from the entrance of Stonegate subdivision to the U.S. 60 Bypass, all of Crossfield Drive; and restriping Lexington Street with reflective paint. Another requests the General Assembly to include access management improvements on U.S. 60 from Woodford Feed to Marsailles in the biennial highway improvement plan.