Recently, Commerce Lexington Inc. announced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Cuba. The response to this trip has been overwhelming, and our departure date of August 23 has sold out. Due to the popularity of this opportunity, Commerce Lexington Inc. and Chamber Explorations have announced a second departure date of August 16th to accommodate the growing numbers that still want to DISCOVER CUBA.This 9-day, 8-night adventure departs Miami on August 16, 2012.
The Kentucky invasion of the communist paradise continues — after two weeks of Lexingtonians, the pinko island will then host our neighbors in Louisville thanks to Greater Louisville Inc., the Derby city’s own Chamber.
GLI is excited to announce a very limited and exclusive opportunity to visit CUBA in 2012. This may be a once in a life time opportunity for US citizens to visit a country with closed borders. The “Discover Cuba” tour is9-days and 8-nights and departs from Miami on August 30th. Visit sites such as: Old Havana, Sugar Mill Valley, Partagas Cigar Factory, Finca La Vigia (Hemingway’s home), Bay of Pigs Museum, Cuban Literacy Museum, and Cuban School/Day Care just to name a few.
Pretty exciting, right!
It is, of course, illegal for US citizens to travel to Cuba, but the trip won’t land anyone in jail (unless, you know, they bring us back some victory cigars) because the trip is organized by Chamber Explorations and sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury.
It seems a missed opportunity for the BEAM/Louisville-Lexington Super Region that the two Chambers’ aren’t mixing and matching their members for some serious mojito one-on-one time, but perhaps there is still time to redistribute the three trips and mix-and-match.
Of course, the trip does raise one central question. What in the world are the Chambers expecting to learn from Cuba?
That they are opposed to communism? That they don’t like Fidel Castro?
The Lexington Chamber of Commerce, which is underwritten by the taxpayers of Fayette County, is an active political lobby group that fights on the local, state and federal level against health care reform, against clean energy, against labor rights, and all sorts of other right wing policy priorities.
Chamber Explorations is run by Premier World Tours, a Redondo Beach, California based travel company. They are running these trips from March through October and Chambers of Commerce across the country are signing up, including the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce which will depart their journey August 16th, right in the middle of Lexington’s first jaunt.
It isn’t that strange, after all. The US Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, is all in favor of Cuba. They want to end the travel ban and open Cuba up to American exploi… commerce. This will lead to democracy, just as it has in China.
Back in 2010, the Chamber took an active role in seeking to open Cuba up, wagging a warning finger at anti-Cuban Congresspeople:
The Chamber has been a longtime advocate of opening up trade with Cuba, believing it will boost U.S. business and spread democracy to the communist regime. It argues the trade embargo has been a failure despite its best intentions.
“Instead of undermining the regime, it has helped the regime. We think opening up trade with Cuba will help spread democracy there,” Kilbride said.
Whether or not it helps spread democracy there or simply allows the US to move back in and take the country back over and re-establish their awesome tropical casinos, ending the trade embargo on Cuba is actually a good thing (since we’re like the only people in the world who can’t trade with them, which is just stupid).
It’s heartening to see the Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky business communities come together to embrace Fidel Castro and seek to welcome his radical political views into our worldview, isn’t it?
But will the communist sympathizers at Commerce Lexington get to race BMW’s in Havana like they did last year in South Carolina?
Recently anointed “Super” Mayors Jim Gray and Greg Fischer will make their Louisville/Lexington (Lexiville? Louington? Greater Lexington?) “Super Region” presentation today at Noon.
If you want to see the event in person you can give Commerce Lexington, our local bureau of the Chamber of Commerce $45 and they’ll let you in and you, too, can be super (if only for an hour).
The event last week in Louisville was big on buzzwords (mostly from Fischer and their “super” moderator) and a little light on specifics, but hey, we’re just getting started here and it’s about damn time so no real complaints. And they’re promising more specifics at today’s event in Lexington.
Commerce Lexington, as you’ll recall, is the taxpayer funded wing of LFUCG that guides our economic development and lobbies local, state and federal government on behalf of King Coal, Big Insurance and Anti-Labor forces. (And more here.)
If you don’t want to give those folks any more of your hard earned dollars, you can stream the event live at the LFUCG website starting at 12:15.
The “Super” location for this “Super” summit: The Hyatt Regency’s Patterson Ballroom.
Everybody seems to be outraged that the Lexington city council, facing a huge budget shortfall, is not making significant cuts and is borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars to build disc golf courses and lacrosse fields.
In addition to the slolam course, BMW’s customer driving school offered several other tests of skill, including an off-road course where the Kentuckians could put a BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle through its paces, and a polished-concrete pad where two drivers would see how fast they could round corners in a BMW 135i sedan without spinning out on the wet pavement.
This team-building experience got rave reviews.
“You could feel the power; it was awesome!” said Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who usually drives a Honda Accord.
“It was super fun, and we got to meet so many people,” said Mary Allison Belshoff, executive director of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Lexington affiliate and my driving partner on the wet-pavement racetrack. “When you put people in unnatural environments, they get to know each other in interesting ways.”
Sure, this may sound like a giant waste of time and money, but how in the world are we going to find a car company and a big empty lot to drive on in the central Kentucky area, where our city leaders can learn valuable life lessons about themselves and others? If defy you to find such a place.
Now it’s true that Commerce Lexington’s budget is getting cut from $500k to $400k soon, but… that’s still $400,000. And I’m sure the city leaders who are handing that taxpayer money over to Commerce Lexington really enjoyed their sponsored trip to South Carolina, their BMW driving, and the life lessons in teamwork that they learned.
But… am I wrong in thinking that this is kind of… insane? And last week, of all weeks, for this to happen?
Anyway, I’m sure our city leaders came back from their sponsored trip this week with all kind of important lessons and wisdom, like how we should emphasize what’s unique about Lexington, articulate a vision, build on what works and strive for excellence. You know, the same things that they learn every single year that Commerce Lexington sponsors these trips.
And they’re back just in time to vote for borrowing money for those disc golf courses, which is the real outrage, so I hear.
Last Thursday the Herald-Leader reported on the new draft report from the cut-and-paste consultants at Angelou Economics.
In their disgraced report, one of Angelou’s few original recommendations was to expand the reach and power of Commerce Lexington. After ProgressLex outed Angelou’s bunk report and Angelou and Commerce Lexington came under increased scrutiny, Angelou went back and added into this new draft some language reccomending that the Mayor of Lexington be in charge of the city’s economics. (A radical thought.)
Bob Quick, head of Commerce Lexington, praised the new report as “aggressive” and “forward-looking.” And then he implied that to carry the report out, the city would have to give Commerce Lexington more money.
And there was also this:
AngelouEconomics also provided a draft assessment of Commerce Lexington’s performance compared with peer cities.
Commerce Lexington’s economic development budget of $1.2 million is below the median $1.7 million of a benchmark group that includes Asheville, N.C.; Louisville; Northern Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colo.
According to Angelou Economics, “Commerce Lexington’s 41 percent public funding is the third-highest of the benchmarked regions,” but the number of private investors is the second-lowest, at 125.
Hmm… 41% public funding.
With the city facing a $25 Million budget shortfall, Mayor Gray — who on Tuesday will deliver his budget address — is likely to demand greater accountability from outside agencies working with LFUCG and funded by LFUCG.
The role of Commerce Lexington — which has received $2.6 million in taxpayer money for economic development in the last five years — is about to change.
In recent years, the local chamber of commerce organization has guided local economic development efforts as the city took a largely hands-off approach. Commerce Lexington, which says its role is to market Lexington to businesses, provides limited public information about what it does with that city money.
The leaders of Commerce Lexington have good reason to resist calls for transparency from the Herald-Leader given the paper’s recent history of exposing wasteful spending at the Airport, the League of Cities and other publicly funded organizations… so when the paper (Ms. Janet Patton leading the charge) tried to dig deeper into Commerce Lexington’s finances… well:
It is less than clear, from documents recently obtained by the Herald-Leader, exactly what the city gets for its Commerce Lexington investment, which grew from $50,000 a few years ago to more than 10 times that under former Mayor Jim Newberry.
Commerce Lexington maintains that because less than 25 percent of its overall budget comes from public money, it is not subject to open-records laws. The group declined to make additional documents public or to disclose how thousands of dollars in travel money is spent.
As we discussed here last month, Commerce Lexington’s most recent available IRS 990 Form provides some insight into the group’s finances and a stroll through their website paints a nice picture of their private sector funders (you know, local small businesses like Wal-Mart and JP Morgan Chase).
This publicly funded private group of big businesses parading as protectors of small business works actively to lobby government (local, state and federal) to dismantle collective bargaining and other union protections, to break down federal regulations on the coal industry, and to stifle any progress toward real health care reform.
So now Commerce Lexington is unhappy because Mayor Gray is likely to cut the taxpayer funding they are so dependent upon. Gray is likely to backseat Commerce Lexington’s role in the city’s economy… which is huge since under Mayor Newberry, the role of economic development was almost entirely outsourced from city government to Commerce Lexington.
Let’s look back at Mayor Newberry’s innaugural budget. Upon being elected (perhaps as a thank you to his good ol’ boy network), Newberry vastly expanded the role of Commerce Lexington in city planning:
I want to emphasize a few steps designed to enhance our economic development efforts:
First, LFUCG has entered into a services agreement with Commerce Lexington in the amount of $661,500 – a 631% increase over last year’s adopted budget. Through this agreement, we will fund most of our business recruiting efforts.
Or, put another way:
It’s not clear how much that funding will be slashed under Gray or what steps, exactly, he will take, aside from telling the paper that he expects to be much more involved in the economic decision making of the city than, say, the previous laissez faire Mayor (aka, he who excused the airport and KLC funding frauds).
What is clear is that some of the most powerful members of the City Council are taking a vocal stand against the usual Commerce Lexington blank check — including Vice Mayor Gorton, At-Large Kay and the one guy you really don’t want on your ass, the Council Bulldog Mr. Julian Beard.
Not all council members are upset… cue up an F-Bomb of surprise because…
But council member Doug Martin said reducing economic development spending is not the answer.
“I’m a supporter of the public-private partnership,” Martin said. “I think it’s not whether we need to cut it; it’s whether we need to quadruple it.”
No F-ing Way! Doug Martin wants to give them more F-ing money! Get the F out of here!
Commerce Lexington President Harry Richart wrote an op-ed in the Herald Leader today to rebut the “speculative what ifs” of a previous HL editorial on the shabby cut-and-paste job that they commissioned from Angelou Economics. The same cut-and-paste job that recommended more taxpayer money and more power for the anti-union anti-regulation of coal lobbying group Commerce Lexington that already gets $500,000 from the city every year. Shockingly, he has supreme confidence in the “re-drafting” of their report:
If we keep our end goal in mind, whether it be small, medium or large, and let no disagreement throw us off course, we can and will move this community forward. The issue at hand is fixable and that process has already started.
We are confident we will receive a corrected report that is truly first-rate, worthy of our consideration and that will help us create an executable plan to make this region great.
Speculative “what ifs” in your editorial only serve to undermine a process that has worked in other communities and will work here, despite the addressed issues with this first draft. Given a choice between a glass half-full or half-empty, I and Commerce Lexington choose the former.
I love that can do optimism!
And in totally unrelated news, Commerce Lexington is now taking applications for a new “Research Director“. Be sure to follow that link so you can send your totally original and not cut-and paste resume and cover letter to the goods folks at Commerce Lexington.
You would think that Mayor Jim Gray getting our $75,000 back from Angelou for his cut-and-paste report would make people happy, but we must remember the Axis of Clown that is working against the mayor and for Commerce Lexington.
Some members of the Urban County Council who also serve on the Economic Development Steering Committee said they were concerned that the city’s refund effectively severs its investment and partnership in the strategic plan making it difficult to rebuild the public’s confidence in the process. “When you agreed to refund the money to the government we lost our ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak. And I hope you understand the difficulty we’re all going to have in getting back the public buy-in,” Council member Kevin Stinnett said, addressing Angelou.
My goodness, “our” skin is certainly at risk now, isn’t it Kevin? And gosh, why would anyone not want to “buy-in” on this beautiful report and it’s recommendation to fluff Commerce Lexington? We should seriously consider giving Angelou our money back, just so folks don’t get the wrong idea, eh?
How about our old pal Doug Martin?
“It’s very crucial that we keep this public-private partnership so that the temptation of politics does not find itself in the middle of economic development in Lexington,” Council member Doug Martin added. “I think that would be a tragic result of this.“
Oh, man. Yes, Doug Martin thinks it would be “tragic” if politics got involved. This is good, good stuff. I’m going to go ahead and put this quote on the fast-track for the Rootie award.
But those two quotes were just kind of transparently funny. Can anyone step up to the plate with some real read meat?
Hey, it’s Lexington’s Darth Vader himself, the Vice Chair of Economic Development for Commerce Lexington, Bill Lear!
Also attending the Monday steering committee meeting was Lexington development attorney and former state representative Bill Lear. “I’ll bet I’ve read more economic development studies than anybody in this room and 90 percent of every one of them is the same. Just like 90 percent of every presentation on a zoning change I’ve made is the same, and 90 percent of every contract written is the same and 99 percent of every Toyota is the same. What makes the difference is what’s on the margin, not the boilerplate.”
Lear urged the group to remain patient and await Angelou’s final report. “I’ve got the memos about who recommended whom for this job and of the five candidates for this that were recommended by the then vice mayor, now mayor, number two on the list was Angelou Economics, number three was somebody that he specifically said had their roots in Angelou Economics and number four had the same pedigree. There is no question but that this is an absolutely top quality firm. It screwed up. I for one am not willing to cast the first stone because I’m sure as hell not without sin.“
Can you wrap your head around that quote? First of all, we should note that Lexington’s “Super Lawyer” just admitted that he phones it in, so he might be a little overpriced at $500 an hour. Secondly, you’re publicly threatening to blackmail the Mayor of Lexington with info that Angelou was his second choice to write the report? Not only does this call into question the $500 an hour price tag, it calls into question your Darth Vader reputation. Serious weak sauce. And this “casting the first stone” stuff? What exactly is the point here? That Angelou should take back his apology to Lexington for the crappy work that he did for us? That he should have kept our money so he didn’t have a Sad? That criticizing his steaming pile of Xerox is somehow beyond the bounds of decency?
This is all about one thing: the threat that this staggering display of incompetence poses to the good ole boys’ little taxpayer funded lobbying arm. Commerce Lexington has been able to get away with this for years, so the entire Angelou affair must be swept under the rug as quietly as possible. Not their recommendation to give Commerce Lexington more taxpayer money, of course, but all of that other unpleasant stuff.
As much as Stinnett, Martin and Lear would like that to happen, you can pretty much put that notion to rest (and the half-assed threats). It is time for the Airing of Grievances.
While Commerce Lexington insisted that Humpty Dumpty could get put back together again in 3 weeks (along with the recommendation that they receive more taxpayer money), Lexington Mayor Jim Gray demanded that Angelou get his ass to Lexington by Monday morning. And now, we have our money back:
At the request of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, a consultant is returning $75,000 paid for an economic development report that has been criticized as “recycled recommendations.”
Gray met with Angelos Angelou, head of AngelouEconomics in Austin, Texas, early Monday.
“I asked if he was willing to take the financial consequences of the credibility gap and refund the city’s money, … and he agreed to that,” Gray said. “You’ve got to respect someone who is willing to do that.”
With the revelations from ProgressLex this past week that the soon-to-be unveiled economic strategy report prepared by Angelou Economics for Commerce Lexington and the city of Lexington was a cut-and-paste job, many have wondered about Commerce Lexington and its relationship to city government.
The now disgraced report cost $150,000 to produce. Half of that was paid by LFUCG and half of it by Commerce Lexington.
Under previous Mayor Jim Newberry the city transferred much of the responsibility for development to Commerce Lexington, which was formed in 2004 and is partially funded by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
The city paid Commerce Lexington $509,070 in fiscal 2010 and has budgeted $508,000 for fiscal 2011. The group considers itself to be private and does not publicly disclose its finances.
Formerly the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, Commerce Lexington is headed by an extensive board of directors. These directors include the Mayor and Vice Mayor, the President of UK, as well as a host of other businesspeople and community leaders.
In addition to the taxpayer money they get, Commerce Lexington collects dues from its 1,800 members.
On top their rank-and-file members and their Board of Directors, Commerce Lexington also maintains a Board of Trustees, ranked by their level of investment. All firms “investing” at $2,000 or more are named to the Board of Trustees. There are four levels of investment: Bronze (presumably for $2,000); Silver ($5K? 10K?); Gold (25K? 50K?); and Platinum (50K? 100K? More?). All these dues and “investment” dues added up to $1.3M in 2009, according to Commerce Lexington’s publicly available 990 Tax Form (see below).
The Platinum Level trustees of Commerce Lexington — the division of Lexington government deciding economic development strategies for the city — are Wal-Mart and JP Morgan Chase.
The Gold Level trustees include Anthem and Ashland Oil, while the Silvers include such folks as Alliance Coal, Kentucky American Water, and the Webb Companies.
Speaking of the Webb Companies, at the annual Commerce Lexington dinner last month, Woodford Webb was presented with the “Public Policy Advocate of the Year” award. Here’s the video they showed at the dinner:
As you’ll notice in that video, Woodford was honored specifically for re-establishing regional tours, which brought Lexington business leaders to Eastern Kentucky and “led to refinements in our organizations policy statements.”
You see, in addition to its role as the LFUCG economic development wing, Commerce Lexington is a business advocacy group that lobbies local, state and federal governments on behalf of business interests. (So, LFUCG is paying the group to lobby LFUCG on behalf of business).
In today’s political and economic times, it is critical that your business have representation to monitor and lobby on your behalf the important issues that face you at a local, state and federal level. Commerce Lexington’s Public Policy Team has the experience and resources to represent you from City Hall to our nation’s Capitol. Most Commerce Lexington members can’t afford a full-time staff person and/or lobbyist to monitor every bill and regulation that moves through Frankfort which can dramatically impact business.
That Commerce Lexington Public Policy team made news in December 2009 when they announced refinements to their standing policy statements:
Several direct coal industry endorsements were added, including:
” … the most immediate threat to Kentucky’s business climate is the pending energy legislation and regulatory obstacles that place an undue burden on states like Kentucky that rely heavily on coal-fired generation plants for electricity. … Commerce Lexington opposes any legislation and regulations that would have a significant negative impact” on coal-industry jobs.
Bob Quick, president of Commerce Lexington and who has in recent days taken to the media to stand up for the consultancy group behind the cut-and-paste development report, told the Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen that the shift in policy to an explicitly and actively pro-Coal agenda “was prompted by a two-day bus tour of Eastern Kentucky by nearly 70 Commerce Lexington members that ‘opened our eyes.’”
Commerce Lexington Inc. recently submitted public comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) expressing its opposition to a proposed regulatory change regarding coal ash that could significantly affect utility rates and energy production in the Commonwealth. The proposed regulatory change for the “Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) Rule” would permit U.S. EPA to classify coal ash waste from power plants as hazardous waste under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
During the month of September, Tyler Campbell, Vice President of Public Policy for Commerce Lexington, testified in Louisville before U.S. EPA regarding the proposed regulatory change to the CCR Rule. During testimony, Campbell stated Commerce Lexington’s opposition to regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste…
In addition to lobbying the federal government on behalf of Lexington taxpayers that toxic coal ash isn’t toxic, Commerce Lexington’s recently released 2011 Public Policy Statements make clear the groups stance on several other key issues:
THE EPA: Commerce Lexington continues to oppose U.S. EPA’s attempts to overstep its regulatory oversight role and impose an extraordinary number of federal mandates that will undoubtedly have a significant negative impact on the business community.
HEALTH CARE: Commerce Lexington Inc. believes that both business owners and employers should have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their employees quality affordable health insurance available from the private market, not government. This opportunity to provide health insurance should provide adequate choices, not place an economic burden with either high taxes or undue government regulation.
“Right to Work”: We support legislation to prohibit requiring any worker to join a union as a condition of employment.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Commerce Lexington Inc. strongly opposes public employee collective bargaining.
It goes on, of course. And there are several policy positions that Lexington’s largely progressive community would have no problem with, from the usual “importance of education” claims and “make UK a Top 20 University” to a reasonable, though brief, stance on immigration reform.
The issue isn’t really what Lexington’s Chamber of Commerce stands for. Businesses should get together and collectively protect their interests.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with members of Lexington’s business community getting together and collectively deciding that the unregulated destruction of Eastern Kentucky is something they all want to stand behind and spend their money on. (Though, one wonders if all the dues-paying members are fully aware of how their money’s being used.)
But it’s more than a little ridiculous that such a group — headed by Wal-Mart and JP Morgan Chase — requires $500,000 in taxpayer money each year to do what they’d probably be doing anyway.
And it’s positively insane to hand over to the same group of pro-coal, anti-union, anti-health care reform, etc., power brokers the keys to the future of Lexington’s economic development.
Paying Commerce Lexington to simultaneously mold the city’s economic development and lobby the government against business regulation is obviously a bad idea.
The Angelou cut-and-paste report simply cements this fact. Let’s be clear:
The city paid $75,000 and Commerce Lexington paid $75,000 to receive an unoriginal document in which the central original recommendation was to hand even more power and control to Commerce Lexington.
A strong working relationship is needed between city government and our major businesses, but it’s important to know which one is calling the shots, and what the people of Lexington are paying for — something Mayor Jim Gray is apparently keenly aware of:
The original request-for-proposals set a June 1, 2010, deadline but that was pushed back until after the November elections.
“We’ve been waiting on the report for months, so basically we’ve been in suspended animation from a strategic point of view,” Gray said. “We need a business plan that can really help Lexington. I’ve observed our economic development efforts as a businessman, as a volunteer, as vice mayor and now as mayor. We have a lot of work to do and all options are on the table.”
Those options might include the city taking more control of economic development or more oversight over of Commerce Lexington.
Those both seem like good ideas. And who knows, maybe the revised Angelou report they’re banging out in a matter of days will make just that recommendation.