Over the past few years, Owensboro has transformed its downtown into a vibrant, attractive area that offers walkability as well as options for shopping, dining and entertainment. Public development of Smothers Park and the 92,000-square-foot Owensboro Convention Center on the downtown riverfront has led to private development of hotels, condominiums, restaurants and bars, and several specialty boutiques. What once was just another dying downtown has become the cultural hub and the center of tourism for the community.
“Hands down, our riverfront is the star of the show,” says Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne. “People are coming in here from everywhere to visit this riverfront of ours. Not only the park, but we have the hotels, the restaurants, the whole downtown. It's an attraction that has paid so many dividends to us not only in the way of improving tourism – hotel occupancy is up, and hotel tax revenue is the highest it's ever been – but also in attracting talented people looking to relocate to this community.”
A Leader in Health Care, Education
Payne points to some of the physicians recruited to the Owensboro area as an example. Owensboro Health is the largest employer with more than 3,000 employees, and the ability to attract the best and brightest to the health system has enhanced the community's quality of life.
“A healthy community is a thriving community," Payne says. "We want good health care here, not only in the form of treatment but also preventative health care. Owensboro Health has taken that approach to keep our community healthy. Not only that, but the hospital contributes significantly to the economic environment of Owensboro.”
Payne says Owensboro's schools also play a major role in providing an enviable quality of life. With a stellar public schools system as well as both four-year colleges and universities and community and technical schools, Owensboro has earned a reputation as an education leader.
“We can have all the great quality of life that you can develop, but unless we have the workforce here and the young people staying here, we're not going to be successful,” Payne says.
Owensboro's livability is also enriched by a vibrant arts, culture and music scene. The city has its own symphony orchestra, fine arts museum, and science and history museum. Its performing arts venue, the RiverPark Center, hosts touring Broadway shows and musicals, along with other events throughout the year.
The International Bluegrass Music Museum and Owensboro's proximity to the birthplace of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in Rosine in neighboring Ohio County draws music lovers from all over the world.
“I am convinced that in the not-too-distant future, when people think of bluegrass music, they're going to immediately think of Owensboro the same way they think of Nashville and country music,” Payne says. “We are going to become the bluegrass capital of the world. We've looked for many years to brand this community, and it was right in front of us all along.”
In the next few years, the museum is slated to relocate into a new, expanded International Bluegrass Museum Center, which will feature indoor and outdoor performance venues, a larger museum, a research library and more.
“Because of the popularity of bluegrass music in Europe, Asia and Canada, the museum and ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches festival bring international visitors to the community on a regular basis,” says Shannon Wetzel, executive director of Visit Owensboro, which serves as the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, visitors and locals can find free outdoor concerts to attend every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Crowds gather along the riverfront on Friday nights for the Friday After 5 summer concert series and on the first and third Tuesday nights from May until September for Bluegrass on the Banks. Other events drawing people downtown include the International Bar-B-Q Festival in May and the East Bridge Art and Music Festival in September.
“Visitors to Owensboro frequently give us feedback about the genuine friendliness and warm welcome they experience," Wetzel says. "Local residents are proud of Owensboro and are not shy about helping visitors have a good experience. New residents tells us that Owensboro is an easy place to meet new people and find others with common interests for quick assimilation into the life of the community.”
Read more about economic development in Owensboro, Ky. at BusinessClimate.com.