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Fouts resigns as EDA director

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By Thomas Barr

      SHEPHERDSVILLE - Bob Fouts has had a lot of successes over the past nine years as executive director of the Bullitt County Economic Development Authority.

     And he has seen a few new misses over that time.

     But after Nov. 1, Fouts will no longer be in charge of bringing jobs to the county.

     Fouts, a former state employee, announced that he is not seeking to renew his contract Thursday during a meeting of the Bullitt County EDA.

     "It's time," Fouts said in making his announcement.

     Having thought about it for the past year, Fouts said he felt the time was right to step down.

     With several weeks of vacation remaining, Fouts could be gone as early as mid-October.

     A special meeting of the EDA board will be held within the next 10 days to set up a committee to begin the search process. The goal is to have someone on board by Jan. 1.

     Fouts is the second full-time paid executive director in Bullitt County. Fouts had retired after 26 years in state government and took over the local position after the sudden death of Steve Wolfe.

     "I just need a break," Fouts said of his decision.

     Coming to Bullitt County was not a sure thing. While in Frankfort, Fouts saw the potential in Bullitt County but he wasn't sure he wanted to return to a full-time job.

     After serving for several months, the search committee always came back to see if Fouts would take the position. He finally gave in.

     "I like a good challenge," said Fouts.

     With no budget for marketing the county and infrastructure needs to be met, Fouts said the presence of private developers made the current growth possible.

     The state was able to assist with things such as raising Cedar Grove Road to take away flood questions.

     Using a network of contacts he had in Frankfort, Fouts said the county was able to start building a series of success stories.

     But he couldn't imagine the thousands of jobs created over the past decade.

     "It is a team approach," said Fouts. "I could never do anything on my own."

     Overcoming budget issues, Fouts said the county has been blessed with tremendous location. Close to the airport and UPS, Fouts said distribution facilities see Bullitt as an ideal spot.

     There is also ample labor force to fill the jobs, especially in seasonal positions.

     "You have to have all these things working together to make this possible," said Fouts.

     Despite the growth, Fouts feels Bullitt County has a lot of good days ahead. There is still land available for development and the utilities are in excellent shape. He is hoping that the county could be in line to land more manufacturing jobs.

     A part of the position is also to bring in commercial development, which he said seems to follow a growth in jobs.

     To be successful, Fouts said he has been outgoing but has always been able to keep things confidential. One slip of information could doom a county's future ability to land prospects.

     He also feels that he's had the ability to anticipate the questions prospects are going to ask.

     "It's competition," Fouts said of landing businesses. "It's the last community standing that makes the final cut."

     At 60, Fouts said he still enjoys most parts of the job. However, he felt it was time to enjoy things outside the office with his wife and family.

     "I've enjoyed it," said Fouts. "I've worked with a lot of good people."

     Hillview mayor Jim Eadens said he was devastated to hear the news.

     "I am devastated," said Eadens, whose city has been the home of some of the largest economic development projects over the past decade. "Bullitt County should be devastated."

     Eadens said you can really appreciate Fouts' work when he is working with prospective clients.

     "There's no way we can measure what this loss will mean to Bullitt County," said Eadens. "We've shot ourselves in the foot by letting Bob leave."

     The director's biggest downfall was his lack of self-promotion.

     "A lot of people don't know what Bob Fouts has done for this county," said Eadens. "His biggest problem is that he didn't toot his own horn enough."

     Lou Ann Moore, president of the Bullitt County Chamber of Commerce, has been pleased to see the working relationship grow between the two agencies.

     While the EDA brings the jobs into the county, the Chamber then works to help businesses once they arrive.

     "His experience is vast," said Moore. "He has the integrity to bring the jobs here."

     Moore said she has had the opportunity to see Fouts at work and he has the ability to work with all the governmental leaders in the county.

     "He's been able to bring people together to get things done," said Moore.

     "It will be a very large position to fill," Moore said of the vacancy.

     Her concern is that when the committee goes searching, it will find a person with the right credentials and the right knowledge.

     "Bob always knew the people to call when you needed something," said Moore. "The next person must also have that ability."

     Moore said there is still great potential in Bullitt County. She just knows how important the hiring of the next director will be.

     At the special meeting, part of the discussion will be to determine what to do in the interim period.

     Board member Happy Cahoe said Salt River Electric official Nicky Rapier offered to provide some assistance. For years, Rapier has worked with the counties in the Salt River service area with economic development issues.

     Cahoe said Rapier would not be a candidate for the full-time position and would only be utilized when needed during the interim period.

     County Judge Melanie Roberts was concerned about the director living in the area. Former board member Robert Hill said that residency in the county was part of the contract.

     Rudy Hawkins, the code enforcement director for Bullitt County who also oversees several other county departments, offered his services in the interim.

     He didn't want the county to miss a call from a prospective business. Like Fouts, Hawkins worked for the state and has contacts in Frankfort.

     Roberts asked if Hawkins could be the point of contact.

     Cahoe said he really wasn't in favor of Hawkins receiving calls. The EDA office still has a part-time administrative assistant who would be able to field calls.

     Board member Sam Hardy said calls to the judge's office should be directed to EDA chairman Frank Ragg.

     (EDA is not an agency of county government. It receives funding from the county but the board is responsible for securing additional funding and it is responsible for hiring the staff.)

      Board member Mark Stout said the agency has survived vacations, illness and even death. He felt it would be able to survive the interim period.

     Board member Scott Wantland had requested to attend a state conference on economic development. With the announcement of Fouts' resignation, he felt it may be more important than ever to have someone from the county there.

     The board also encouraged Wantland to sign up for a scholarship program to a more intensified economic development training session.

     The local attorney joined the EDA as its newest member earlier this year.