BOWLING GREEN, Ky — Bowling Green has been recognized as one of Kentucky’s fastest-growing cities. The city has reported a steady 2% growth rate, over the past 20-25 years, that can be attributed to many facets within the city.
Bowling Green and Western Kentucky University
Reporting under 40,000 people in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau, reported under 70,000 in 2018, seeing a 75% increase. A part of that is due to the presence of Western Kentucky University.
Western Kentucky University has over a hundred different programs with the city, fostering job opportunities, and student retention.
“We are so fortunate to have Western Kentucky University here in Bowling Green. They are an anchor in our economy. A lot of things spur from Western’s presence here, with the degrees that they’re offering,” says City Manager, Jeff Meisel.
One of the partnerships looking to foster growth in Bowling Green is WKU’s GameChangers Program. The program is a funded partnership, between city donors, Western Kentucky University, and the Bowling Green and Warren County school districts. It will allow for current district faculty to obtain the necessary Masters of Education credits to have a classroom of their own.
Jerrett Ingrim is one of the GameChangers, as an administrative assistant and football coach at Bowling Green High School. He first got his exposure to education, as a senior at WKU. He was a coach for the Greenwood High School football team, where he began to ignite his passion for teaching and mentoring the youth. “I haven’t been a headteacher, but I’ve been in classrooms and I’ve been able to observe and see some of the things that just can’t be taught, you just have to go through it yourself,” says Ingrim.
After Ingrim graduated with his bachelor's, he was not able to enroll in the master's program. Wanting to be around kids during and after school, he found an opportunity he could, taking the administrative assistant job back in August. A few weeks later he was informed about the GameChangers program, and how he would be able to receive the thirty credits he needed to become a full-time teacher. Taking six credit hours this semester, while balancing a work and football schedule, he says things can get pretty hectic, but he wants to exemplify the same perseverance he is trying to put into his students.
“I feel like with being a teacher you got to practice what you preach, so if I expect my guys to give 110% with what they’re doing then I have to lead by example,” says Ingrim.
Ingrim will hopefully graduate with all his credits in 2022, and he hopes his classroom will be a reminder to never give up.
“You know you might get five no’s before you get that one, yes, but that one yes is all you need so just continue to stay ready, stay humble and take full advantage when you get opportunities,” says Ingrim.
Bowling Green and Beyond
While the city is providing hope and opportunity in the classroom, they are also giving a second chance to those abroad. According to the International Center of Kentucky, immigrants make up close to 15% of the Bowling Green population.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve brought in thousands of refugees and they have been a tremendous contribution to the development of this community,” says the International Center of Kentucky, Executive Director, Albert Mbanfu.
Bowling Green is an immigration hotspot for the U.S. Ties program. The program allows family members abroad to move to Bowling Green, to help them get accustomed to American life. Over the past couple of decades, the International Center has helped relocate 12,510 people, resulting in 90 different languages spoken in the Warren County and Bowling Green school districts.
Immigration is a focal point in the 2020 election and Mbanfu says he hopes immigration continues to be a non-partisan issue.
“Refugee resettlement has continued under both Republican and Democratic presidents, so I hope that whatever be the outcome that refugees will still be coming into the United States. We have to stand as that beacon of hope to the world and for us to do that we have to show the world that we have the heart to welcome those that are persecuted because if we don’t do that, who will?,” says Mbanfu.
Bowling Green served as a beacon of hope for the Zukic family. Escaping the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s, Tahir Zukic came to Bowling Green with his wife, two children, and nothing else. Originally working in a factory to make ends meet, Zukic had dreams much bigger, that would eventually become an economic bright spot in the Bowling Green area.
“My son was 1 year old and my daughter was 4 years old and I started working at the factory and it's hard. You know, you just make a weekly check. You bring home, it's not going to make it from Friday to Friday and that’s one of the reasons I started driving a truck, just to support my family,” says Zukic.
Leaving the factory, Zukic began driving a truck. He began learning about the business on the road and saw that Bowling Green was a hotspot location for a trucking company. According to the City of Bowling Green, the area is hours away from more than 35 states and 60% of the population. Starting with just one truck, he began Taz Trucking in 2004.
“I investigate most of the people moving from place to place and Bowling Green is one of the best places for this business, so we are in the middle of everywhere, if you go to the east we are close, if you go to the west, we are just in the right place to do the trucking business,” says Zukic.
Sixteen years later, the company has over a hundred trucks and employs more than 155 people. Contributing thousands to the Bowling Green economy, and Zukic says he hopes his company continues to grow and thrive along with the city he calls home. “It’s not easy, but if you start to roll like a snowball and if you just push down the hill the ball will get bigger and bigger and bigger, TAZ Trucking started with one truck and just started rolling the ball down the hill and we still rolling and balling as we get bigger and bigger,” says Zukic.
How is Bowling Green Maintaining Their Growth?
With close to 70,000 people, coming from far and wide, the city of Bowling Green must expand to maintain its growth. The city has enacted multiple construction projects to help expand the city and alleviate traffic. The city also recently approved a $3 million project to improve access to the industrial park. City Manager, Jeff Miesel says, to see continued growth, it is important to pour money into the community.
“We’re working on expanding the Transpark to get more lots, to get more businesses and jobs to come in because we know if we're not growing, we’re dying. So we have to manage that growth strategically and allow for traffic growth, population growth, housing,” says Miesel.
Working with the university and the international center has contributed to Bowling Green’s growth and economy, but the diversification of markets is what keeps it alive.
Unlike smaller surrounding towns, Bowling Green’s economy is fueled by multiple markets, such as healthcare, industry, manufacturing, and agriculture. Being open to new opportunities, Miesel says is key in growing the city.
“We’re getting into more diverse industries that are coming here to Bowling Green, with some food processing and some distribution, warehousing and so we think that’s a good thing that we got going, with the diversification of the economy,” says Miesel.
The city expects to surpass the 70,000 with the 2020 census, and hopes to continue to provide a safe and thriving place to call home. “We want to give good quality of life in the city of Bowling Green. You want to get the most bang for your buck with your taxpayer dollars and that’s what we always focus on,” says Miesel.