Year in Review, Part 2

Jan. 11—Business continued to thrive in London and Laurel County in 2022, as did events that brought in people from across the country. The community also saw some historic "firsts" last year that will make a huge impact on the future.

The business world saw massive growth and expansions. Paula Thompson, executive director for the London-Laurel County Economic Development Authority, said the growth was phenomenal for the year.

"London and Laurel County saw steady economic growth throughout all of 2022. Month after month new businesses opened, existing businesses expanded and relocated and hundreds of new jobs were added," she said. "This steady growth created a positive economic impact not just for Laurel County but for our whole region."

The numbers speak for themselves. Thompson compiled a list of the new and expanding businesses that celebrated success over the past year.

—47 new storefront businesses were opened

—47 new service companies were announced

—13 new medical offices were opened

—11 new restaurants opened a storefront

—9 remotely operated food businesses opened

—21 existing businesses relocated

—6 new spas/beauty storefronts opened

—5 existing businesses expanded on their current property

—5 Hemp/Vape/Smoke shops opened

—4 Industrial Buildings were built

—4 RV Parks/Campgrounds/Lodges were announced

—2 new banks opened

—1 industrial company rebranded

—Sazerac Company purchased the 200-acre Rowland Acres Industrial Park for their record breaking $600m investment.

—Lily Industrial Park was created — the county's 9th Industrial Park

—Wildcat Flea Market was sold to create a logistics center

—2 new subdivisions announced

—1 city annexation on Esquire Lane was passed

—Crooked Creek 2023 reopening was announced

"Requests continued all year for available buildings for new and expanding companies who would like to locate in London. Despite low available workforce numbers here and across the nation, we were able to successfully draw necessary workers from surrounding counties with our easily accessible highways," she added. "We have surely been blessed with a robust community and look forward to continuing this trend into 2023."

London and Laurel County also witnessed some "firsts" during 2022. The community welcomed visits by the University of Kentucky Head Football Coach Mark Stoops and Men's Basketball Head Coach John Calipari. Stoops, owner of RD1 Spirits, introduced Old Wm. Tarr Manchester Reserve whiskey at Starr's Liquor in London. He was accompanied by Kash Daniels, a former UK football player, who serves as ambassador for the brand. Calipari came to assist in fundraising for the tornado victims of western Kentucky, teaming with Kroger stores across the state for a 5-stop tour. Both coaches were met with an enthusiastic fan base who came out to support their causes.

September is Addiction Recovery Month and the originator of GITT Apparel, Adam Larkin, sponsored the first-ever GITT Recovery Celebration to recognize those who have battled with addiction. Larkin, who overcame addiction to pain pills, completed a recovery program in London and launched his own business. The mission of the event was to recognize those who have struggled with addiction and moved on to successful careers. Those attending ended the night by lighting sky lanterns to celebrate their success.

It is well known that reading is the key to the educational process and the London Laurel Chamber of Commerce took another step toward assisting in that area by sponsoring Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Chamber CEO Deanna Herrmann introduced the program in mid-summer and asked for area businesses to donate to sponsor the program. Through the program, children from birth to age 5 receive an age-appropriate book each month to enhance their reading and recognition skills. The program still needs sponsorship to provide the shipping costs for the books to reach all preschool children in the Laurel County area.

For years, Kentucky was the sole state for which drivers had to visit separate agencies to get drivers licenses. But the division was sealed in 2022 with the establishment of regional drivers license offices — thus eliminating the former process of testing with the Kentucky State Police, and issuing drivers permits and licensing through the Circuit Clerk's offices. London's regional center was established in July in the Carnaby Square Shopping Center.

For years, the Laurel County School District has sponsored a Special Needs Prom for those who may become upset or uncomfortable with the noise and lights of the regular Prom activities. But the board members with Action for Autism realized that once students graduate high school, they are limited in their social activities. For that reason, they hosted the first-ever Special Prom for special needs individuals over age 18 in 2022.

After over a decade without a community theatre program, Millstone Theatre Guild formed in late 2022, but still produced its first play during December. While its home base in the Belle Bennett Auditorium is being renovated and restored, the theatre group meets and plans more shows in 2023.

The heavy case load of Family Court cases in the 27th Circuit necessitated a second judge for Knox and Laurel counties. The state legislature approved that in early 2022, with the candidates set for a vote in the November general election. Laurel County had 6 candidates and 1 from Knox County vying for the judgeship, with London attorney Lucas Joyner receiving the highest votes. Joyner was sworn in as Family Court Judge, Division IV, in November and began his official duties on Jan. 1.

One of the biggest crowd drawers of the now defunct Laurel County Fair was the sports events, especially the Truck and Tractor Pulls. In 2022, the North and South Laurel High School FFA (Future Farmers of America) brought the popular event back to Laurel County as a fundraiser for the two programs. The event was highly successful with a large turnout who welcomed the return of the competition gratefully.

The festivities around Christmas season are plentiful in the London area and the addition of a Christmas Drone Show brought thousands out to view the aerial celebration in mid-December. Approximately 160 drones lit the sky above London with traditional symbols of the holiday season — snowflakes, a wrapped gift, Santa, Rudolph, Christmas tree, a snowman and "Happy Holidays" written in the sky. The finale of the show was the City of London's symbol, adding an extra touch to the aerial display. With the Christmas on Main parade, Town Center Tree Lighting and decoration display,Lights Around London driving tour and London Community Orchestra and Southeastern Kentucky Chorus performing holiday music, the drone show was yet another addition to make London and Laurel County "Merry and Bright."

Other events also had record attendance. Participants in this year's Redbud Ride got a taste of all four seasons as they made their treks along the four cycling routes. Alternating between sunshine, rain and snow and sleet, the cyclists arrived back at Farmers Market wet and cold but happy to be a part of the first event of Kentucky's Century Ride.

The 3-D Archery contest and the expanded regional Agriculture Fair at the Fairgrounds property brought thousands to London in 2022. Other events such as Christmas in July, Mistletoe Market and Honey Bun Run/Cider Night — all sponsored by London Downtown — also reported record attendance and participation.

Julie Rea, executive director of London Downtown said Main Street Week and Shop Local Week were also huge successes in 2022. London Downtown received the Best Economic Vitality Initiative at the Kentucky Main Street Awards in Frankfort.

"I am proud to continue representing London Downtown in our many efforts to create more business opportunities in our downtown area. Our downtown is thriving and is continuing to grow."

2023 is looking bright for new and returning events as well as business developments still to come......