With the announcement of Kentucky's single largest economic development project that will retain about 700 jobs and add 80 new jobs to the local economy, it's safe to say 2015 was a good year for the Greater Owensboro area. As aluminum products maker Aleris prepares to invest $350 million to expand its Lewisport rolling mill to meet the rising need among automakers for aluminum sheet metal, the future for the area's diverse business community looks brighter than ever. Expansion Driven The Aleris expansion is just the latest response to the unique assets and progressive spirit driving growth in the three-county Greater Owensboro region in western Kentucky. Located along the Ohio River and less than two hours from Louisville, Owensboro offers access to major markets, as well as low energy and workforce costs, a strong network of higher education institutions, an affordable cost of living and a high quality of life. "One of the key aspects of our economy is its diversity – it helps keep our community on an even keel," says Madison Silvert, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. "We're not solely invested in metals or life sciences; we also have food and agriculture and finance services, and that helps tremendously." Growth has been strong among top employers like Owensboro Health and U.S. Bank, as well as manufacturers such as Aleris and burgeoning biotech firms in the area. The largest employer in the state west of Louisville, Owensboro Health employs more than 4,000 people in the area and completed a $15 million expansion in 2013. A fixture in the region since the 1970s, U.S. Bank recently invested $15.2 million to expand its mortgage operations in the city, adding 332 jobs and bringing its workforce to more than 2,000. "U.S. Bank is a national corporation, but working with the state and city have really made it possible to continue to grow here in Owensboro," says Robert Smiley, executive vice president for U.S. Bank Home Mortgage. Several companies are investing in distilleries in the area to meet the rising demand for Kentucky bourbon – one of the state's most prominent industries. Sazerac, parent company of Owensboro-based Glenmore Distillery, has launched a $45 million expansion of the distillery's distribution center, adding 20 new jobs. The 130-year-old historic Charles Medley distillery, purchased by TerrePURE Kentucky Distillers, a subsidiary of South Carolina-based Terressentia Corp., will undergo a $25 million renovation to distill and distribute bourbon, adding up to 75 jobs and taking the new name of O.Z. Tyler Distillery. Community Progress The city has launched a placemaking initiative expected to result in a total of $120 million in publicly funded infrastructure and amenities to continue the reinvention of downtown Owensboro into a walkable, mixed-use urban center. Plans are in the works to bring more art and cultural venues and a new condominium complex downtown to complement Owensboro's 92,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art conference center and riverfront park. A 150-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel opened downtown in 2014 next to the convention center, along with a 133-room Holiday Inn across from the center. These developments take advantage of the city's riverfront, which has become a focal point for festivals and recreation, including the city's popular Friday After Five outdoor summer concert series. One of the key factors in the region's growth is the strong work ethic and education of its local workforce. Daviess County was one of the first in the state to be certified as a Work Ready Community, which assures employers that a local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies new jobs will require. The city and key stakeholders have embarked on a 50-year master growth plan to prepare for the success of the next generation of residents, examining ways to advance transportation, energy, infrastructure, education and health in the area even further. "We're a community that's not afraid of addressing real issues and planning for the future," Silvert says.