IIf Ford Motor Co. could have purchased the property it wanted in Daviess County in 1956, the world’s largest automotive glass plant could have been a major employer for decades.
But Ford couldn’t find enough land locally at the prices he wanted to pay.
So in 1958, Ford opened the plant, with more than 2 million square feet under roof, in Nashville, producing more than 15 million auto parts a year.
And it’s not just Ford that Owensboro lost.
Six other major industries leaned on the city in 1956.
But no one could find suitable land at reasonable prices.
So in early 1957, the Owensboro-Daviess County Industrial Foundation was formed to ensure the county never lost a project for lack of land.
It works with the city and county to secure land for development.
Today, many industries – including Swedish Match, Mizkan (Ragu) and Toyotetsu Mid America – are located in industrial parks developed in whole or in part by the foundation.
But land for new developments is still scarce in Daviess County.
More than 15 square miles of the county is in a flood-prone area.
And land that’s not in the floodplain can be expensive.
In 1975, Caterpillar Tractor Co. envisioned a $100 million plant that would employ 3,000 people on 700 acres in eastern Daviess County.
But the proposed order from Daviess Tax Court would have condemned the property if prices were too high or people weren’t selling.
The landowners threatened to sue and the deal fell through.
Enough land for a mega project?If another mega project came along today, could Daviess County find enough land for it?
After all, in 1990 local authorities managed to get options on 1,100 acres bordering the Green River to land the Scott Paper Co. mill, which later became Kimberly Clark.
“No, we don’t have enough land for a mega site,” Judge Daviess Al Mattingly said recently. “We would be hard pressed to round up 1,000 acres because so much of the county is in a floodplain. It’s hard to even round up 100 acres.”
He said Daviess County is a partner with Bluegrass Crossings Business Center in Ohio County and Paradise Regional Business Park in Muhlenberg County.
And he would get a share of the taxes from the industries there.
“And we work hand in hand with Hancock County,” Mattingly said. “A lot of the workers there live in Daviess County. But we don’t get the tax revenue from the factories there.
Mayor Tom Watson said: “Half the country is giving away land for projects, and people here want to sell it. Much of the county is in the floodplain and farmland is getting so expensive. Finding available land is difficult.
But Brittaney Johnson, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said that agency is trying.
“We have conversations with several landowners in the county for approximately 880 acres,” she said. “We are awaiting the environmental studies and are considering taking an option on the property.
“I’m not saying we wouldn’t buy the property at some point, but right now we want options.”
The largest expanse, she says, is 300 acres.
But part of the property is in the floodplain and should be built on, Johnson said.
“The floodplain is a huge problem,” she said. “It would be very difficult to find the land for a mega project.
In 1998, the city, county, and industrial foundation established the Pleasant Valley Industrial Center, a 145-acre industrial park on Pleasant Valley Road, purchasing the land for $1.8 million.
But when nothing happened there in 2007, they sold the property to Owensboro Health for $2.9 million.
Owensboro Health Regional Hospital opened there in 2013.
Last year, former City Commissioner Larry Conder, who is now running for Daviess County Commissioner, wrote an “In My View” for the Messenger-Inquirer that said the community needed to find 100 acres not in the floodplain with access to rail, reliable electricity, natural gas, water and sewer and direct access to a four-lane highway to attract industry to the county.
Last week he said: ‘We need a collaborative effort to get 100 acres ready to go with all the infrastructure in place. I don’t think we have that.
Last year, Ford Motor Company and SK Innovation announced plans for a $5.8 billion battery factory on a 1,551-acre site in Hardin County.
And Pratt Paper announced plans for a $400 million paper mill on 200 acres in Henderson County.
“The land in Henderson and Elizabethtown belonged to the local government,” Conder said. “But it had been empty for more than 10 years. If we do nothing, companies will ignore us. Bold action requires leadership that knows it won’t be in office when something happens.
An internet search shows 136 acres available on Reid Road with rail access, 175 acres at the Owensboro River Port and 40 in the East Industrial Park.
And the airport has several parcels of land available for development – 88 acres on Kentucky 81 and 38.2 acres, 14.9 acres, 17.1 acres and 4.4 acres on other parts of its property.