Ballard County welcomes eight new Asian carp-related businesses
What was considered a threat to western Kentucky’s aquatic environments is turning out to be a net gain for Ballard County. The area celebrated the imminent arrival of eight new businesses related to Asian carp and river fish in its Kentucky International Industrial Fish Park during a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday at Fort Jefferson Park and Memorial Cross in Wickliffe.
These new businesses will fill out the 72-acre industrial park, joining anchor business Two River Fisheries and Novaland Group. The park will be full to the gills, with every property tract now sold. The new ventures include the River Sun Group, Two Rivers Travel, United Fisheries Group, Express Fishing and Sports, Fishing LLC, Magasam, Asian Carp Arts and Honcoop Pet Foods. All of these businesses harvest or process carp and river fish or serve to promote and market the industry.
“Angie (Yu) and her team took the lemons of the invasive carp species and made lemonade,” Ballard County Judge-Executive Todd Cooper told the crowd of 50 or so business people and county residents. “More than 25 year ago, Ballard County Fiscal Court and the Ballard County economic board partnered together and bought a 72-acre tract of property in Wickliffe … that developed into what is now known as the Kentucky International Industrial Fish Park. And a lot of work went into that park.”
Ballard County Economic and Industrial Development Board president/CEO Terry Simmons played a key role in the park’s origins, Cooper recalled.
“Through those partnerships that were formed, a vision was developed due to the invasive carp that started hitting the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. They knew we needed to do something to combat this species but also (wondered) are there some economic development opportunities in this arena?”
Their hunch was right. Simmons sat on the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization (PACRO) board and he helped secure funding to develop the initial infrastructure that would act as a lure for the first business: Angie Yu’s Two Rivers Fisheries. Two Rivers would open in 2012 and provide the first local jobs in the Asian carp business.
Cooper finds hope in a prediction made by Dr. Lining He, development manager for Two Rivers: Asian carp could be the next Kentucky Fried Chicken, a product the state is known for throughout the world. Yu echoed this thought Tuesday.
“I hope together we can make this Asian carp great in the world. Talking about seafood, we know salmon are in the Pacific Ocean, we know Maine lobster in the Atlantic and we know Louisiana crawfish in the Gulf of Mexico,” Yu said. “Here in the Mississippi and the Ohio River, Kentucky Lake, Barkley Lake, we are here full of fish, full of Asian carp. Freshwater fish is a big industry in the world. I think maybe, in another 10 years, Kentucky river fish will be as popular as Maine lobster or, you know, crawfish.
“Together, we can make it.”
Opening and filling the industrial park hasn’t been a speedy process. It was first announced in 2019 and many of the partnerships have been formed in the past year or so.
Ballard County Economic Development chairman Nathan Whipple is excited about the possibility of these ventures not only succeeding economically, but also aiding in making local waterways safer.
“We want to see this succeed. We want to see the Asian carp controlled. We know we can’t eliminate them but … Asian carp is definitely a problem,” he said. “I’m an outdoorsman and I’ve been in a boat where an Asian carp flies in and it’s dangerous for us as Kentuckians traveling the waterways so us getting those under control is a big deal.”
A Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife representative was in attendance Tuesday as well. Dave Dreves is the director of fisheries for the KFDW.
“We certainly have a great desire to see the Asian carp populations fished down in the lakes and in our rivers because of the detrimental impacts to sport fishing and to our boaters,” he said. “We’re doing everything that we can in our purview to promote the commercial fishing and processing of these fish.”
The KFDW is providing a subsidy of 8 cents per pound of Asian carp to commercial fisherman from the state for Asian carp and working to create a market-based solution to the Asian carp problem with the Kentucky Fish Center.
The Kentucky Fish Center, also run by Yu, is a collaboration focused on creating a constant supply of that fish to enable the establishment of a supply chain for Asian carp, allowing the easier creation of contracts between Asian carp processors and other commercial manufacturers.
Many of the businesses coming to the industrial park have international investors and owners, predominantly from China and Canada. Sophia Qi, of the Chinese American Manufacturers Alliance, spoke briefly. She has helped some of these international business people navigate the waters of starting a business in west Kentucky, where they’ve found “a good environment, good people and a big market.”
Cooper says the over two decades of economic development around Asian carp in Ballard have already yielded over $10 million dollars in economic impact, but that could just be the beginning. Right now, no hard economic impact estimates exist for the industrial park, but Ballard County Economic Development executive director Hannah Chretien is expecting big things.
“The bottom line is we’re talking about eight new brick and mortar businesses that are going to have manufacturing production lines, that are going to have distribution lines, that are dealing with logistics, that are also dealing with tourism,” she told WKMS after Tuesday’s event. “It’s going to have a large impact.”
Ballard County Economic Development officials expect a full build out of all the new businesses within the next two years.