Today’s record economic development successes could be only the beginning
Published 10:53 am Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Representative Daniel Elliott
For much of our state’s early history, Kentucky was a dominant force in our nation’s economy. The ingredients for our early economic success were simple: thousands of acres of undeveloped land, an easily accessible location and a hardworking, skilled population. However, decades of poor leadership and bad choices took a toll in every measurable area of economic well-being. I am pleased to share that this is changing, and changing fast. Over the past three years, we have seen record increases in not only business interest, but actual investments and jobs created. In fact, our state has not seen an economy this consistently strong since before the Civil War.
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For those who measure success by the numbers, the following information may be the proof you need to believe that our Commonwealth is on the right path. Just last month, we reached $20 billion in new economic investment over a three year period. In addition, we have seen 54,000 new jobs announced with more than 1,200 in the month of June alone. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, our state’s unemployment rate has never been recorded lower than the current 4 percent. Of course, you could also consider that the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet recently shared with legislators that there are approximately 134,800 job openings waiting to be filled. These are the simplest and most effective ways to gauge how well our economy is doing.
While we have a lot to celebrate, I think we need to remember that this can be just the beginning – if we stay the course and remain committed to balancing both progress and the preservation of our values. We have incredible potential still to be tapped, with the very same ingredients that ensured our early success still critical in attracting out-of-state business investments and supporting in-state entrepreneurs. I also believe that there is a great deal of work to be done to bring promise and prosperity into all regions of the state, from the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky to the farms of Western Kentucky.
When you combine our state’s natural advantages, like our central location, waterway access, and interstate highways, with the sound tax and regulatory policies coming out of Frankfort right now, you get the results we are seeing. Did you know that Kentucky is a top producer in the automotive industry? That we serve as a logistics hub for UPS, DHL and Amazon? That Kentuckians are a major exporter of aerospace components?
Our top state economic development official recently told a group that when he makes a presentation to a potential investor, he leads with location, lifestyle, workforce quality, and infrastructure. He also stressed something he called “political harmony.” Essentially, that means that all levels of government are working together to ensure our state is “open for business.”
As your legislator, I am working with other members to identify ways we can build on the current economic development success. One of the first things I think we need to talk about is what can we do to help people prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow. For example, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development heard last month that many of those 134,800 job openings are in business technology and health care. We need to reach those who want to work in these fields and ensure they have the education and training they need. I think we are seeing how we approach education changing to once again include highly skilled training for professions like plumbing, electricians and welders.
We also need to address our workforce participation rate. Right now, more than 40 percent of our state’s work-eligible population does not hold a job. That rate is among the nation’s worst and we need to figure out why. We are learning that there are barriers that prevent people from entering the workforce, and they include lack of quality child care, education, and even drug abuse.
As you can see, Kentucky is once again the land of opportunity. We can be satisfied with our current success, but I would rather see us choose to challenge ourselves to reach the next level. We owe it to ourselves and the generations to come.
If you would like to connect with me over economic development or any issue, please reach out to me. I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov. You can also share your thoughts with me on Facebook @elliottforkentucky.