Campus News

UEDA Recognizes 2 UK Initiatives for ‘Best Practices in Economic Engagement’

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 9, 2020) — Two innovative University of Kentucky programs have received Awards of Excellence from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) for “transforming their campuses into engines of economic prosperity through leading edge initiatives.”

The Southeast Kentucky Downtown Revitalization Project, a program within UK’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), won the “Place” category award, and the Food Connection at UK won the “Place + Innovation” category award. Both programs are housed in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The winners were announced during the UEDA’s Virtual Summit hosted last week in Pittsburgh.

“UK is very honored to be recognized on a national stage by UEDA members,” said George Ward, UK Economic Development Collaborative (EDC) coordinator. “Congratulations to Lilian Brislen, Melody Flowers and Alison Davis for their years of great results working on these projects and for the impressive job they did during the presentations at the summit.”

Leading initiatives from across North America competed in a six-month process, including application, peer review, online presentations, and, ultimately, selection by attendees of the UEDA Annual Summit as category leaders.

“When we started The Food Connection just over five years ago we were given a brand new dining contract, a blank slate and a mission to build a vibrant farm-to-campus initiative that would grow our local food economy across Kentucky,” said Lilian Brislen, executive director of The Food Connection. “This award is a testament to the University of Kentucky’s commitment to the land-grant mission and our role as an anchor institution, the innovation embedded in our dining partnership with Aramark, and the creativity and ingenuity of our local farms and food community. I am grateful every day for the chance to do this work with an amazing team of colleagues and our passionate local food community, and thankful for the recognition conferred to our community by this award.”

"It's an honor that CEDIK's work is nationally recognized for its contribution to economic development,” said Alison Davis, executive director of CEDIK. “The CEDIK team is a unique composition of innovative leaders and they have worked so hard over the last three years to empower communities in Southeast Kentucky to act boldly. We are thrilled to be selected as a model of excellence."

In addition to these projects, Flowers and Davis also hold leadership positions with the EDC at UK, working with a multidisciplinary team of colleagues to proactively grow economic prosperity in the Commonwealth by focusing on the areas of talent, innovation, place and partnership.

“Never before has economic engagement of higher education institutions been more critical to our economic redesign,” said Tim Hindes, UEDA executive director. “UEDA’s model of highlighting best practices in economic engagement continues to locate, highlight, and recognize those initiatives that best exemplify sustainable models that are making remarkable, positive impacts on regional economic ecosystems across North America.”

About the Southeast Kentucky Downtown Revitalization Project

The Southeast Kentucky Downtown Revitalization Project is a strategic partnership to revitalize Eastern Kentucky's downtowns, support entrepreneurial ecosystems and begin readying their communities for new investment. Stakeholder teams representing each community have access to CEDIK's suite of services and technical assistance to support the creation of downtown revitalization plans oriented toward supporting entrepreneurs, building the capacity of local leaders and attracting new private investments. The goal of the project is to build capacity in the downtown areas to attract private investment for revitalization projects that present a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities.

About The Food Connection at UK

Born out of a trailblazing dining contract, The Food Connection at UK (UKFC) is a first-of-its-kind local food systems institute that bridges the public and private dimensions of UK's dining partnership. UKFC works with its dining partner to create initiatives that extend the positive economic impact of its dining contract beyond the boundaries of the UK campus, bringing the heart of the land-grant mission to campus operations. A combined approach of clear goals and metrics; targeted research and programing; a focus on replicable local food models; and an innovative suite of strategic partnerships have made UKFC a national model for successful farm-to-campus initiatives. UKFC grounds its work in a deep engagement with Kentucky's local food community while also integrating the specific perspective and opportunities afforded by institutional dining. By aiming for a specific goal and rallying its partners toward achieving it, UKFC has effected lasting change in Kentucky's local food economy.

Read the full announcement from UEDA at

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.