Putting Water on the Economic Development Map

The annual Women in Economic Development Forum brought together 120 women who work in economic development with site selectors and other professionals who help companies grow their business in new communities.

Now in its 14th year, the forum is an opportunity to discover and discuss trends in selling a community for new business. It’s also an opportunity for women who’ve been historically underrepresented in this field to learn from one another.

Joining the economic development entities and site selectors were a handful of electric/energy providers and just one water utility, Louisville Water Company.

Louisville Water is a unique player in the economic development field – many water utilities are part of a municipality where the city manages business deals. Louisville Water has a direct link to Louisville Metro Government but transformed into a quasi-municipal corporation in 1906 that makes decisions alongside a seven-member, bipartisan governing body.

Company leadership saw value in having a literal seat at the table to discuss economic development and water’s direct role in it.

Water has a connection to 24,000 businesses in the region and whether it’s a small bakery, a corporate headquarters or a manufacturing facility, these business owners and operators all rely on a reliable and high-quality supply of water.

Louisville Water has been reiterating this message through its Water Grows KY campaign, a statewide educational initiative, highlighting water’s vital and often unexpected role in Kentucky’s signature industries – agriculture, distilling and brewing, education, health care and manufacturing.

At first many of the attendees seemed surprised to see a water-only utility in the room but after the conversation started, they started to connect the dots.

One site selector explained how water scarcity is an important part of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues with new projects. And with water scarcity in the western U.S., some communities have eliminated themselves from new business opportunities that require a large volume of water.

Others pointed out that utilities have often been undervalued and haven’t always been invited to discussions around community growth and progression.

“Utilities are finally getting the respect they deserve,” said Amy Gerber, an economic development professional with Cushman & Wakefield.

Of course, the high-quality and availability of water are top selling points for Kentucky’s largest city and Louisville Water made sure attendees and site selectors knew about those advantages.

Louisville Water joined with LGE&KU at the forum and the two utilities touted themselves as the team you might call “bourbon’s best friends.”

High-quality water and dependable energy are key in producing the Commonwealth’s favorite spirit and the $9 billion signature industry. The message and branding caught the attention of many site selectors, and who knows, it might just land new business in Kentucky.

To learn more about the Water Grows KY campaign and how water can grow your business, visit WaterGrowsKY.com.