Site Selection is not a magazine most of us would keep on our coffee table, but for those in government and business who track economic development, this publication is one not to be missed.
Fortunately, it has had a lot of good things to say about Kentucky in recent years, and over the past two, it has awarded us its annual Governor's Cup for having more major job announcements than any other state on a per capita basis.
To qualify, a project has to meet at least one of three criteria: capital investment of $1 million or more; the creation of 20 or more jobs; and/or the addition of at least 20,000 sq. ft. of floor space. Companies across the commonwealth made nearly 550 of these announcements in 2014 and 2015, an average of more than five each and every week over the two-year period. Most were much larger than the minimum requirements, and many of the largest were in the automotive industry.
A year ago, for example, General Motors announced it would invest $439 million at its Corvette plant in Bowling Green. The bulk of that work will be a new paint shop that will be the size of nearly eight football fields.
Last fall, meanwhile, the first American-made Lexus rolled off the line at Georgetown's Toyota plant, which last week celebrated its 30th anniversary in the state. In December, Ford said it would invest $1.3 billion at one of its two assembly plants in Louisville, which can trace its history with the company back to 1913.
Many know that the commonwealth plays a prominent role when it comes to the cars and trucks we drive. Our four assembly plants manufactured more than 1.3 million last year, ranking us third among the states, and we have 470 auto-parts companies that complement them. Two-thirds of our counties have at least one.
Most Kentuckians, however, may not realize that, as large as the automotive sector is, our work in aerospace has overtaken it.
According to the state's Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky exported more than $2.6 billion of aerospace products during the first three months of this year. That's up almost a fourth when compared to the same timeframe in 2015, and it was more than double the value of the cars, trucks and auto parts we shipped, which were valued at $1.19 billion.
The growth we saw in total exports during this year's first quarter is even more impressive when measured against the national rate, which declined by nearly 7 percent.
Beyond this good news, there have been other positive signs pointing to an improving economy.
State budget numbers released on Friday show revenues have grown nearly four percent this fiscal year, which ends this month; that's far better than the 1 percent growth that had been expected when the state budget was approved two years ago. A closer look at the revenue growth shows sales, corporate and individual income taxes are all up significantly, indicating stronger consumer confidence.
In other good news, state officials announced last month that the tourism industry grew faster in 2015 than it has in a decade; and back in December, Site Selection said Kentucky had the third-best business climate among the states, which was up from eighth best the year before. No state saw a bigger jump in the rankings.
It is important to emphasize that in celebrating these gains, we must also remember that the benefits are not felt equally across the state. The coalfields have been hit especially hard by declines in recent years, and employment in that signature industry is down to levels not seen since the 1800s. Poverty rates remain high as well across broad sections of the commonwealth.
Our goal going forward is to keep the overall economic trend moving in the same upward direction while trying to find ways to extend its impact to every community. The more people we can have contributing to this success, the better off we all will be.
If you have any thoughts about this matter, or any other affecting the state, please let me know. You can write to me year-round at Room 329F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.