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From the winner's circle: Advocating for Paducah

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 11:00:00 am

Since 1952, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been an economic driver in McCracken County, Kentucky. These days, the plant is still the premier employer in town, although since being deactivated in 2013, its workers have switched from powering the plant’s uranium-enrichment operations to cleaning and decontaminating the site, a long process expected to stretch on for decades.

The first federal contract for cleanup at the site was awarded for a three-year period in 2013. Because of the plant’s importance to the local economy, Sandra Wilson, president and CEO at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, knew she’d have to take action to obtain a longer follow-up contract, which would provide a sense of certainty to the town of 26,000.

“From our community’s perspective, we needed the federal government to make it a longer contract because people need that stability for their future,” said Wilson. “Moving here for just three years doesn’t necessarily give you the feeling that you might want to buy a house and permanently relocate here.”

In September 2015, the chamber capitalized on its annual D.C. visit to make the case in person to Ernest Moniz, then secretary of the Department of Energy. During those meetings, Wilson invited energy department officials to Paducah to tour the plant and attend an “appreciation reception” hosted by the chamber.

It was there that Wilson was told Paducah had been chosen to receive a permanent display at the DOE building in Washington to commemorate the gaseous diffusion plant’s decades of national service. The 20-foot-long display would consist of panels recounting the site’s storied history, including its connection to former U.S. Vice President Aben Barkley, a Paducah native who helped the city land the plant back in the 1950s.

“We’re very proud that we were only the fifth community in the country to be invited to receive a display like this,” said Wilson. “It was really a big plus for Paducah that highlighted our site and the important work done there.”

The chamber’s relentless advocacy efforts paid off big in early 2016 when the DOE announced the plant’s new contract would run for a five-year term, followed by two renewal periods for a possible total of 10 years.

“With the renewals tacked onto the five-year contract, it is now likely that we will have stability for our workers for at least the next 10 years to come,” marvelled Wilson. “In that sense, we really achieved what we set out to accomplish through our advocacy in Washington and in Frankfort, Kentucky.”

The campaign on behalf of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was part of an eventful year for the chamber, during which it set new membership and revenue records and launched the area’s first young professionals group—achievements that helped it win Chamber of the Year at the ACCE convention in Nashville.

“When we got the call from ACCE, we screamed so loudly that the tenants upstairs came down to make sure we were okay,” recalled Wilson. “With our advocacy success and the other milestones we hit, it was just a wonderful accomplishment to be recognized for the amazing year we had.”

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Tags: Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, Advocacy, D.C. Fly-in, Department of Energy

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