Attracting business,  residents atop  new judge-exec’s to-do list

Johnson Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie welcomes friends and family to a swearing-in ceremony last week in Paintsville in which he and his new commissioners were among those formally taking the oath of office.

Johnson Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie hopes to leverage his business experience in commercial, farm and mineral property management to help the county grow and stand out in the region as the best place to live and work, he told the Paintsville Herald this week.

McKenzie has spent his career recruiting businesses to managed properties in Paintsville and Johnson County, and along the way, has worked closely with the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce. Until he ran for office, he served as one of the first board members of One East Kentucky, an economic development agency with a laser focus on bringing industry to the region.

“That was obviously a focus that I’ve had, is trying to take all of that background and bring it to this office,” McKenzie said. “But we’re also looking at things that would be categorized more as community development as well.”

McKenzie said the fiscal court will be working to attract and promote tourism opportunities, agriculture, small businesses and more .

“What I would like for this office to be is a resource, if someone has some business that they want to try to start, or a business they know can be recruited in, we can be a resource and provide what they need here and direct them to the other resources they need,” McKenzie said. 

The newly hired Regina McClure, McKenzie said, will be the point person for that work in her new position as community development coordinator. 

Core services to the citizens, McKenzie said, are in no way being lost in the shuffle — and instead, can even be improved with this focus on community development. 

Providing county services, McKenzie said, depend on the county’s finances, which are in “excellent” shape.

“The previous administration was very fiscally conservative and they’ve left the county, by all indications, in very solid financial condition, which I’m very appreciative of,” McKenzie said. “We want to continue to hold that path. If counties find themselves leveraged through debt, or through lack of funding, then you have no opportunity to grow, so we want to make sure to maintain solid, fiscally conservative decision-making.”

McKenzie said he is excited to work with the fiscal court, including Commissioner Kathy Adams and her years of experience and new commissioners Mike Jarrell and Tim Salyer, who are also eager to go to work for Johnson County.

Bringing in business may be first way to broaden the tax base and help the county grow, but McKenzie said bringing in new residents and retaining our next generations is also critical.

“We want to find ways to market and recruit people to live in this county. Whether they are employed in this county — we want them to be , and we want to give them the opportunity to be — but if not, we want them to live here anyway, even if they have to drive to Pike County or Ashland. There’s no reason we can’t entice them to live here in this county,” McKenzie said. “One thing we have going for us, that we never want to minimize — we have two of the best school systems in the state of Kentucky. If we don’t promote that, then shame on us.”

McKenzie said that new ideas do not need to come from the top down, either.

“It’s a cliché, but we want people to know that we’re open, we’re transparent and we’re ready to do business,” McKenzie said. “If John Smith has an idea, I want him to feel comfortable to walk through that door and say, ‘Fiscal court, here’s where I’m coming from, here’s my idea, how can you help me cultivate it?’”

The Johnson County Fiscal Court meets the second Tuesday of every month at 4:30 p.m.

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