Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Chairman-Elect Darby Turner Discusses His Priorities for Kentucky's Business
Interviewed by Tom Martin
Darby Turner is chairman-elect of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce 2008 Board of Directors. The organization represents the interests of roughly 7,000 businesses across Kentucky. Turner is a member of the corporate and commercial practice and the tax and finance groups in the law firm Greenebaum Doll & McDonald. He focuses on general corporate representation, real estate law including representation before the Lexington Fayette Urban County Planning and Zoning Commission and business and estate planning matters. In addition to his new role with the Kentucky Chamber, Turner has served as chairman of Commerce Lexington, president of the Lexington Rotary Club, chairman of the United Way and is a member of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee. He was recently inducted into the Junior Achievement of the Bluegrass Business Hall of Fame. Turner received both an undergraduate degree and law degree from UK.
TM: What are the highlights of your agenda in your role as chairman-elect of the Board of Directors in the Kentucky Chamber?
DT: We’re in the process of a new strategic plan. The last three years or so since Dave Adkisson came onboard (as the chamber’s president and CEO), we’ve been concentrating on internal matters, reorganization and so forth. The next three years looks like we’re going to be focusing on implementation of a number of strategies that we’re in the process of developing. New Century Kentucky was a project that we did last year: Craig Grant out of Louisville headed it up to bringing ideas from all over the state. Hundreds of ideas came from that project about what Kentuckians thought were good for Kentucky, or was needed for Kentucky, and so forth. And out of that process we developed three focus points that we’re going to concentrate on. One is education; that was one of the most predominant themes through that process. Second would be modernization of government, and third would be wellness in Kentucky.
TM: Can we fix those things?
DT: I think the word “fix” is an interesting word, because I think those things all are ever-evolving. Once you reach certain goals, the bar gets higher, and so forth. There is always something better to do. We can certainly make great improvements from where we are today in those areas.
TM: Education, of course, is a top priority for business in Kentucky, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math as we try to become more relevant in the global economy. What are your thoughts about that?
DT: One of the most critical things that we hear from Kentucky businesses is our workforce. Trained work-force and education are such critical components to that. It’s extremely important to increase our graduation rates from high school and to particularly increase the number of graduates from either two-year or four-year collegiate degree programs. It’s incredibly important to Kentucky businesses for the education system to pro-vide the workforce that businesses need.
TM: What do you think are perhaps our biggest challenges, and what do we have going for us?
DT: Well, let’s start with our strengths, because certainly I think there are very positive things that exist for Kentucky. One, we have a very diverse business economy. That’s a great thing, particularly in the economic times that we find ourselves in here at this point anytime. Kentucky’s businesses are fairing pretty well. The other thing is, we’re in a very strategic location in the country in terms of the position of I-64 and I-75 in particular, and on into Western Kentucky, with I-65 and so forth. We are strategically placed in the country to pro-vide lots of goods and services to the region and the nation. The weaknesses are those that we just identified, I think. We really need to develop a more cohesive and better trained workforce to support the opportunities that we have. Education and wellness relate to those workforce issues.
TM: What needs to be done on the state government level to put Kentucky on a more competitive footing?
DT: We certainly don’t have all the answers, but certainly things need to be focused on. This is both on a state level and on a local level. Kentucky business folks have a great wealth of experience and knowledge on efficiencies of operations and management. This has been used from time to time; I know it was done in Lexington some number of years ago, but business leaders formed a taskforce at the request of government. It reviewed processes and departments, organizational issues and how to apply modern business techniques to some of the government processes, and so forth. So that is certainly talent that we have to give to government. In addition, the exploration of strategies of privatizing things that the private sector does well and the government doesn’t necessarily do so well ought to be looked at in that same vein. On the local level, regionalism, what services could be more efficiently provided on a region-al basis, rather than a city government or county government by county government, which would provide better service and better utilization of tax dollars and more efficient government for all Kentuckians, but particularly for business?
TM: In recent years, the legislative branch has had great difficulty in crafting and agreeing on budgets. Finding consensus among the leadership has been especially challenging. Do you see that as an area in need of improvement, and what ideas might you offer?
DT: Well, budgets are always difficult to deal with, particularly as revenue decreases, and that’s what we’ve seen in the last few sessions. You know, we have worked very closely with the legislature in crafting and trying to identify priority issues in the budget. We don’t always agree on those priorities, but we’re there at the table making our thoughts and views known on what those priorities should be. And again, the other side of that coin is the efficiencies that could be obtained, if you can modernize government to a degree to effectuate those efficiencies like businesses do everyday. We think that would assist in that budgetary situation well.
TM: Without pointing a finger at any individuals, do you think that the process has become too divisive, too partisan?
DT: No I don’t think so. I mean, politics is politics and you’re going to get some of that. That’s our system, and it’s served us very well. So I think all of our elected leadership is looking for the same thing. We’re all after the same thing. We want to provide the best possible environment we can for our citizens in Kentucky, the best possible life that we can provide for our citizens and our businesses in Kentucky. To do that, you’ve got to concentrate on the things that are fairly obvious: education, wellness and business. Nobody else pays the bills but business. That’s where the tax revenue comes from, ...from wages and salaries and so forth. It’s business that is the economic engine that develops the revenue that runs the state.
TM: The old magic wand question: If you could wave one, what would change in improving business in Kentucky?
DT: If I could wave a magic wand, or if the Kentucky Chamber could, it would be to double the college two-and four-year graduation rates. If we could do that, everything else would follow. The wellness would follow, economic development would follow, quality of life would follow, and so forth. That’s one of the most critical pieces.
TM: Darby Turner, thank you very much for joining us.
DT: Thank you, Tom, glad to be here.