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March 23, 2016 7:06pm

All-In for Kentucky’s Signature Industries

By Kent Oyler, President & CEOkent_oyler_crop

Horses, bourbon, healthcare, autos, global restaurant companies.  These are amongst Kentucky’s signature industries, where our companies lead the nation and we take pride in their success.  But what are we doing to protect these industries, promote them and make it as easy as possible for them to thrive here?  The answer is simple: ‘not enough.’

Horses.  It is easy to take something familiar for granted.  When we drive past the iconic farms with their elaborate barns or attend the Derby, it’s hard to imagine that Kentucky might not always be the capital of the horse world.  Visitors from afar recognize the value of this large, graceful industry. Many of them return home and provide facilities and incentives that attract horsemen away from the Bluegrass State.  Enactment of legislation that authorizes gaming in Kentucky, as put forth in Sen. Morgan McGarvey and Sen. Julie Raque Adams’ SB 144, would go a long way toward funding larger purses and help preserve one of our grandest signature industries.

Bourbon. Our state is blessed with distilled spirits brands known around the world, including Woodford Reserve, Old Forrester, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Maker’s Mark, and dozens more.  The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is wildly successful and the envy of every state.  Yet today we are struggling to pass legislation that allows our distilleries to increase the volume of packaged sales and serve reasonable sample sizes of their products at their distilleries.  Two bills, SB 11 and HB 433, address this issue and help solidify and secure the entire industry by placing distilleries on a level playing field with wineries and breweries.

Healthcare.  Global powerhouses like Humana, Kindred, Pharmerica, Trilogy, Atria, and Signature Healthcare are based here.  So what are we doing to assure that Kentucky will retain our position and become even more attractive to companies like these?  There have been numerous pieces of health care legislation this session, and HB 527 is legislation that would bring state law up-to-date for mail-order pharmacies.  These businesses provide many high-wage jobs and Kentucky has already lost out on opportunities in this field.  Passing this HB 527 will immediately generate 150 new jobs in Louisville, adding to the health of this critical Kentucky industry.

Automotive. Kentucky is now the #3 auto-producing state in America.  Ford, Toyota, Corvette, and hundreds of their suppliers call us home and employ more than 85,000 people according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.  The Kentucky auto industry is so successful that they are challenged to find skilled workers.  Governor Bevin has proposed a $100M bond pool in his budget for workforce training, much of which will benefit our manufacturers and auto plants.  Other states would give their eyeteeth for a piece of our auto industry.  Let’s give the automakers and our other advanced manufacturing companies the skilled workers they need by ensuring that $100M workforce bond pool is in the final budget.

Restaurants. And there are also non-legislative issues we need to address.  YUM Brands, Texas Roadhouse, and Papa Johns, among others, call Louisville home.  With world-wide operations, what they need from us is better direct business air access.  We need to pull together our will and resources to attract more direct flights to retain these businesses and allow them to expand.

The point is that the business world is changing, and industries we have here today but take for granted, could very well leave tomorrow.  Gradually and imperceptibly at first perhaps, but over time, the companies that make up our long-standing signature industries could become frustrated with our indifference and be gone, along with the jobs and prestige they bring Kentucky.

It’s time that we fully recognize our signature industries and pass legislation that benefits them and shows that we want them here.  If you agree, call your legislator and make your voice heard.  The bills listed here, SB144, SB11, HB433 and HB527, and the Governor’s budget, are a good place to start.   Let our elected officials know that they have power to secure our heritage by strongly backing Kentucky’s signature industries.