"County lines don't divide us; they join us," said Jennifer Beck Walker, executive director of the Purchase Area Development District, as the organization - known regionally as PADD - celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday at the Carroll Convention Center.
Beck Walker described the annual meeting as a "family reunion" - a very large family of former and current PADD board members, committee members and staff, state and federal legislators, government representatives and partners, with more than 200 people in attendance.
U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-Tomkinsville) was the meeting's guest speaker and spoke about the cooperation among the eight Jackson Purchase counties that comprise PADD and the 14 other area development districts across the state.
"The great thing about this region is the fact that the judges(-executive) and the mayors and the economic development directors and the chamber people get along really well," he said. "We need that treatment in Congress for a few days - give us a lesson on civility."
During the meeting, PADD elected its officers for the 2019-20 year, re-electing Paducah Area Transit System Director Arthur Boykin as chair, Hickman County Judge-Executive Kenny Wilson as vice chair and Benton Mayor Rita Dodson as secretary. Ballard Judge-Executive Todd Cooper was elected as treasurer, succeeding Carlisle Judge-Executive Greg Terry.
"We have all come a long way in 50 years," Beck Walker said. "In 1969, the Purchase Area Development District was funded by a $39,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration, and our local units of government provided a 25 percent match that got us there. So, we went from $39,000 in 1969 to a budget of over $10 million today."
Beck Walker listed some of the services PADD provides to the region through that budget, including service to seniors and those with disabilities, identifying unsafe roads, seeking funds to upgrade water and wastewater systems, helping unemployed people find jobs and helping with small business loans.
She said when she became the PADD executive director in 2008, she went to an economic development administration conference and heard a quote that stayed with her ever since.
"It was a definition of regionalism," she said. "The definition was, 'Regionalism is an unnatural act among non-consenting adults.' Some days, I think there has never been a more true statement than that, and other days, I am absolutely blown away by the acts of cooperation and regionalism that I see. I believe, after 50 years, we have finally reached the age of consent."
"This is our region," she added. "This is the group of people that work together every day to improve the quality of life for the residents of the Purchase area through planning, programs and partnerships, and I sincerely thank you for your work."
For more information about the Purchase Area Development District, visit purchaseadd.org or call the office in Mayfield at 270-247-7171.