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Kentucky: The Spirit of the South

Quality of life and manufacturing muscle combine to make Kentucky special for growing industry

By Michael Randle

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you visit Kentucky for several weeks like my son Matthew and I did in the fall quarter, you will see first-hand examples of the spirit that Kentuckians have for their communities. I have visited over 2,000 different places in the South in the past 25 years and I have never seen anything like what I saw in Kentucky. The Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to more beautiful downtowns -- hands down -- than any state I have visited extensively. When I use the word "extensively," I mean visiting three or four dozen different towns in all parts of a state in a short period of time. That's the only way to really get to know the heart and soul of a place. We call it around the office, "barnstorming." Well, we just barnstormed Kentucky in the fall quarter and we were blown away.

-- Michael Randle

We don't write much about quality of life factors and they are not mentioned often in site selection reports. Yet, a visit or two to the Commonwealth of Kentucky might give you some insight into what we discovered. Without question, there isn't another Southern state with as many vibrant and pristine downtowns as Kentucky. That alone raises the bar in the quality-of-life factor. From Mt. Sterling to Bardstown, from Louisville to Lexington, Harrodsburg to Paducah and from Danville to Mayfield; leaders in the Commonwealth know the importance of a bustling, beautiful downtown. 

"One of Kentucky's true strengths as a travel destination is the incredible beauty and diversity of our smaller towns and communities," said Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. "Most of Kentucky is rural and that landscape is dotted with towns brimming with beautiful old historic buildings and landmarks which present an authentic look at the unique history that is Kentucky and that was so important to the development of this country. So many visitors today are looking for the 'real America' as they remember or as they imagine it to be, and we know they can find a special part of the real America right here in the smaller towns of Kentucky – so much so that sometimes the traveler actually discovers the next place they want to live."

Kentucky is experiencing unprecedented growth in the bourbon industry as approximately 95 percent of the world's supply is produced in the Bluegrass State. Credit: MartyPearl.com

Bardstown, Ky., was recently awarded several notable small town recognitions, including "best small town in America" and "most beautiful small town in America" by several media properties including Travel + Leisure and Fodor's. But, the competition must have been fierce in the state alone. The cities mentioned are just a sampling of the wonderful town centers we were privileged to behold. After visiting towns such as Georgetown, Shelbyville, Owensboro, Bowling Green, Richmond, Franklin, Russellville, and Elizabethtown among others, I realized no matter how many places I visit in the American South, I will never be able to say I have seen it all.

The creation of a "sense of place" as evidenced by the grand efforts throughout the state to restore and keep vibrant central business districts carries over in Kentucky to facilitating community, workforce and economic development strategies. Kentucky is a state that has been one of the most consistent job and investment generating states in the American South over the last several years. Job generation is taken seriously by Gov. Steve Beshear's administration. And they have fun doing it, too. Some of the American South's finest quality-of-life brands, such as the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, remind all who visit the state from around the world that there is more than work to life. There is a sense of place in Kentucky, a spirit that you will notice.

As written, the blueprint for job generation in Kentucky is a proven one. Kentucky has now recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession and continues to add to its workforce. Also, Kentucky's unemployment rate is a full two percent lower than only a year ago, and for several months the state had some of the most dramatic improvements in unemployment rate in the nation.

Since Gov. Beshear has been in office, Kentucky has improved five years out of six in our annual SB&D 100, which ranks states and markets based on the capture of new and expanded projects meeting or exceeding 200 jobs and/or $30 million in investment. The chart below shows how Kentucky ranked among the 15 Southern states per capita in winning projects meeting or exceeding those thresholds since Gov. Beshear's first full year in office.

Kentucky's Per Capita Performance SB&D 100 2008-2013

Year Rank Points Projects
       
2013 3rd 230 36
2012 5th 220 29
2011 7th 175 29
2010 9th 170 27
2009 13th 45 5
2008 9th 130 20

*Points are earned for each announced project meeting or exceeding 200 jobs and/or $30 million in investment. Projects earn five or 10 points based on size. Per capita ranking is determined by dividing population into total points earned to determine points per million residents. Source: SB&D

As you can see by the chart, the Beshear administration began in the recession years of 2008 and 2009. Like other states in the South, Kentucky suffered during the depths of the recession, and the state's status as a large automotive industry sector state is certainly one sure reason. No industry got slammed harder in the manufacturing arena in 2008 and 2009 than automotive.

Since emerging from the recession in 2010, Kentucky has been on a roll and the total number of large, game-changing projects has been incredibly consistent. It should be noted that the petrochemical industry has skewed rankings in the South as Louisiana has been No. 1 per capita in capturing large job and investment generating projects by a wide margin for six straight years. There is a significant chemical industry in Kentucky, but very little oil and gas activity, so to rank third in the South last year per capita among so many oil and gas states in the South is somewhat remarkable.

Manufacturing sector rules in Kentucky

Workers discuss proper safety precautions at Toyotetsu North America, located in Somerset, Ky. Credit: CEDManufacturing is a Kentucky staple. One in seven Kentuckians work in manufacturing, meaning the sector accounts for a little more than 14 percent of the Commonwealth's workforce. Kentucky was recently cited by USA Today as one of the 10 U.S. states with the largest percentage of gross output attributable to manufacturing. From the South, Alabama, North Carolina and Louisiana also made that top 10 list along with Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon and Indiana from outside the region.

Since Kentucky is the third largest producer of light vehicles in the U.S. and the second largest producer of trucks, many assume the automotive sector is the No. 1 industry in the Commonwealth. After all, there are four assembly plants in Kentucky -- more than any other state in the Southern Automotive Corridor -- and nearly 500 automotive-related facilities.

When Kentucky began its post-recession roll in 2010, it was the automotive sector that quickly emerged. We launched RandleReport.com in 2011, a site that aggregates and posts a new story from the South every five minutes from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Central Time, Monday through Friday. That first year there seemed to be a new or expanded Kentucky automotive project posted on RandleReport.com every single day. Since 2010, more than 300 automotive projects have been announced in Kentucky, accounting for approximately $4 billion in capital expenditures and over 17,000 new jobs. In 2013 alone there was more than $1 billion invested by the automotive sector in Kentucky and that year one in 10 light vehicles produced in the U.S. were made in the state.

Kentucky is home to Toyota's largest North American assembly plant in Georgetown. In Louisville, there are two Ford plants, and Bowling Green is the only place in the world where Corvettes are made. While Kentucky features two domestic automakers and only one foreign plant -- Alabama for example, is home to a Japanese, a German and a Korean automaker -- foreign direct investment, particularly in the automotive sector, is off the charts in the Commonwealth.

Of late there have been some massive investments made by German companies, many of which are in the auto sector. Of course, the Japanese are well represented all over the state in the automotive sector and in other industries, and that's been the case since Toyota opened its plant near Lexington in 1988. In fact, there are 435 foreign-owned facilities housing over 85,000 workers operating in Kentucky.

"We're constantly looking for ways to strengthen our international business relations," said Secretary Larry Hayes of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. "Our team has coordinated more than a dozen economic development trips to meet with business and government leaders in North America, Europe and Asia. We know that nurturing our existing global operations is vital to long-term success, which is why we continually reach out and maintain close connections with companies all over the world."

Toyota is currently building a new Lexus line at its plant in Georgetown. It is the first time the Japanese automaker will produce the Lexus luxury line in the United States, and the company had plenty of different plants to choose from. It chose Kentucky because "Toyota trusted our workforce more so than any other state they operate in here in the U.S.," Gov. Steve Beshear told me on more than one occasion during my many visits to the state.

In 2014, Gov. Beshear launched the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association (KAIA) in an effort to further promote the sector. "The goal of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association is to create a unified voice for an industry sector that is profoundly important to our state's economic health and growth," said Beshear. "The association will play a vital role in addressing the challenges, solutions and opportunities facing the industry. It will also allow us to highlight successes and elevate the state's contributions to the global automotive industry."

Sec. Hayes is the association's inaugural chairman. "The Kentucky Automotive Industry Association was formed hand-in-hand with Kentucky's automotive manufacturers and suppliers," Hayes said. "It's a partnership that I have no doubt will create an environment in which we'll see tangible results and continued growth for Kentucky's economy."

Next generation automotive

Some interesting advanced automotive manufacturing events are playing out in Kentucky. The state has become a center for aluminum production for use in the automotive and aerospace industries. Just three years ago, however, a study commissioned by the Kentucky General Assembly essentially determined that because of rising energy costs, low demand and falling prices, the aluminum smelters in the state would probably be forced to shut down. Fast forward to today and the aluminum industry in Kentucky is undergoing an economic renaissance.

In the past year, a half dozen new and expanded aluminum projects representing investments of $600 million have been announced in the Commonwealth. The revived aluminum industry accounted for $2 billion of Kentucky's gross domestic product last year. The smelters and supporting cast give Kentucky the most combined aluminum capacity of any U.S. state, and employment in the aluminum industry in the state just passed the 20,000 mark.

What revived the aluminum industry in Kentucky? The state's industrial power costs -- aluminum smelters are huge electric and gas loads -- now rank sixth lowest in the U.S., 20 percent lower than the national average. But more importantly, the demand for aluminum in the automotive and aerospace sectors is rising fast. Aluminum sheet stamped into automotive bodies is projected to increase from 200 million pounds in 2012 to 4 billion pounds by 2025. Ford will soon produce an aluminum body F-150 pickup truck and other aluminum car and truck bodies will follow the trend. The aluminum F-150 will reduce the weight of that truck model by 700 pounds.

The use of advanced aluminum materials in automotive manufacturing is just one of Kentucky's strengths in next generation vehicle research, development and applications. In 2009, Gov. Beshear formed a partnership with the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratory. The result was the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center in Lexington.

"Kentucky is a leader in developing energy and automotive technologies," said Tony Hancock, director of Kentucky-Argonne. "The research being done in Kentucky is not only helping advance the science involved in manufacturing batteries, but also is allowing companies to explore new technologies that can supply the power to charge up tomorrow's batteries."

The center's main purpose is to improve batteries for use in plug-in and hybrid vehicles. But at Argonne, research is also being done on advanced materials and environmental testing. In addition to Argonne, research centers in Kentucky that support next generation automotive manufacturing include the Center for Applied Energy Research in Lexington, the Vehicle Architecture Research Laboratory at the University of Louisville, and Secat, a metallurgical research lab located in Lexington. 

Kentucky's manufacturing sector surprises

With nearly 500 supplier facilities, four assembly plants and a large supporting cast of R&D facilities, Kentucky's automotive sector features everything imaginable in that industry. But automotive (vehicles and parts) is not the Commonwealth's largest industry or its largest export. Kentucky's largest industry, with over $6 billion in gross product last year, is food, beverage and tobacco product manufacturing. There are some large food companies located in Kentucky, including Tyson Foods, ConAgra, Perdue, Smithfield Foods and Nestle. Of course, Yum Brands is headquartered in Louisville. Yum is a Fortune 500 company and is the umbrella of brands such as Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, among others.

But the really sexy part of Kentucky's food and beverage industry is the resurgent bourbon industry. Over 95 percent of the world's bourbon is produced in Kentucky and currently the number of aging barrels in the state tops the state's total population by nearly 1 million. There are about 5.3 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky today and the state is home to 4.4 million people.

A study recently released by the University of Louisville that was assisted by the Kentucky Distillers' Association and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, shows that the bourbon industry in Kentucky has entered a "Golden Age." Here are some of the findings of the study:

* "The meteoric rise of Kentucky's signature bourbon industry" has nearly doubled the size of its workforce to nearly 16,000 people compared to 8,600 workers in 2012, a 77 percent increase.

* The number of licensed distilleries has tripled, from 10 to 31 in two years. That is the highest number of operating distilleries in Kentucky since the repeal of Prohibition.

* The bourbon industry has set records for payroll, tax revenue, exports and barrel aging inventories.

* Distilling contributes $3 billion in gross state product to Kentucky's economy, up from $1.8 billion two years ago.

* Payrolls for those working in the bourbon industry have risen in two years from $413 million to $707 million. The average salary for distillery workers is now $91,118 a year.

* Announced new and expanded distillery projects are expected to infuse another $630 million in new investments, creating another 1,500 jobs over the next five years.

* Total property tax assessments have risen to $2 billion from $1.3 billion in 2012, a 54 percent increase.

* Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey account for $1 billion of the total $1.5 billion in distilled spirits exports in 2013.

* More than 630,000 people from all over the world visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or Kentucky's Bourbon Trail Craft Tour last year, a 43 percent increase over 2012.

* Kentucky distillers purchase 40 percent of their grain needs from local farmers, supporting 1,500 jobs and nearly $60 million in farm output. Sourcing local grains for the state's bourbon industry could rise to nearly 80 percent in the near future.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said about the report, "We all knew the bourbon renaissance was taking this iconic industry to new levels, but this data is absolutely phenomenal. The amount of progress is unrivaled and unparalleled. This proves the bourbon boom is real and producing results for all Kentuckians."

Kentucky's largest export

While food, beverage and tobacco production is Kentucky's largest industry based on production value, and automotive vehicles and parts production is the Commonwealth's second largest industry, there is one industry in Kentucky that you would never expect to be its largest export. Surprisingly, as written in the enclosed aerospace bonus edition, aerospace is the leading export of more Southern states than any other sector. Aerospace, meaning vehicles, engines and parts, is the leading export of five of the South's 15 states. And one of those states is Kentucky. Furthermore, exports from the aerospace sector are growing in Kentucky, much like the rise of the bourbon industry in the state.

From 2012 to 2013, aerospace exports rose in Kentucky by 47 percent according to the U.S. Census, with a total value of $5.6 billion. Aerospace exports have grown so fast in the last four years that they now account for almost one-quarter of all state exports and have surpassed exports from the automotive industry, which in 2013 exported about $4 billion in vehicles and parts. Both aerospace and automotive contributed the most to Kentucky's record $25.3 billion export total in 2013. That year, Kentucky-based companies exported to 198 countries. . .the third consecutive year of record exports in the Commonwealth.

"From the world's finest automobiles to great bourbon to the fastest thoroughbreds, Kentucky produces some of the best products in the world," said Ed Webb, President of World Trade Center Kentucky, the State's leading provider of trade education and advisory services throughout the region. "The world has acquired quite the taste for Kentucky."

Kentucky's growing aerospace industry features these companies, among others: Messier-Bugatti-Dowty in Walton; Mazak Corp. in Florence; Indy Honeycomb in Covington; Meyer Tool in Erlanger; GE Engine in Madisonville; Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems in Danville; Roll Forming in Shelbyville and Lockheed-Martin, Bluegrass Station, in Lexington.

There are a variety of institutions and programs helping educate the growing aerospace workforce in Kentucky. Interestingly, there are only 67 high schools in the U.S. that teach aerospace and aviation education, yet Kentucky boasts being the home to 25 of those 67 high schools.

The Commonwealth's postsecondary institutions are also supporting the growing aerospace industry in Kentucky, ensuring that an advanced manufacturing and R&D workforce can backfill for years to come. Some of these programs include: Morehead State University's Space Science Center and Labs, a research collaborative involving NASA; Eastern Kentucky University's professional pilots program; the University of Kentucky; and Somerset Community College's aviation maintenance tech program. Embry-Riddle and Jefferson Community College also offer undergraduate and advanced degrees in aviation and aerospace-related fields and the Institute of Aerospace Education in Frankfort is aiding in the growth of aerospace careers in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Aviation Association (KAA) promotes the aviation industry statewide and the sharing of best practices among its members. "Our members range from very small, rural general aviation airports in remote locations to the largest air carriers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," states Lisa Wilson-Plajer, executive director of the KAA. Filed for the 2015 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly are study resolutions, House and Senate, directing the Transportation Cabinet and Cabinet for Economic Development to evaluate and report on the total economic impact of the aviation industry in Kentucky. Sponsor of the House study, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins said, "We need a better understanding of the importance of the aviation industry in Kentucky so that we can make sure the industry gets its fair share of the Commonwealth's economic development efforts."

More wings over Kentucky

While it is included in the logistics sector and not part of Kentucky's aerospace products and parts manufacturing industry, Kentucky's economy features many more wings flying over the state. Two global air freight hubs -- UPS and DHL -- operate in the Commonwealth. The UPS Worldport, located in Louisville, is the largest fully automated package handling facility in the world.

Worldport is a massive facility, encompassing 5.2 million square feet with a perimeter of 7.2 miles. The complex and its 21,000 employees housed there have the capacity to process 5 million packages a day. The UPS Worldport gives Kentucky companies obvious advantages when it comes to shipping, both domestically and globally. Major distribution centers are located throughout the state and the Louisville region is one of the few places in the South where 1,000,000-plus-square-foot spec buildings are built with regularity.

DHL Express' "super hub" is located at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Ky. DHL's hub in Northern Kentucky is one of only three "super hubs" worldwide for the world's largest international air freight company. But here in the U.S., Germany-based DHL is ranked third, behind Memphis-based FedEx and Atlanta-based UPS. Over 2,500 workers are housed at DHL's facility in Northern Kentucky.

So, ridiculous air freight advantages aside, just a look at the standard logistical offerings of Kentucky and you will see everything under the sun except a deep water seaport. Other than that, Kentucky has it all and more; 19 interstates or major highways; 2,760 miles of railroad track, including 2,299 miles of Class I track; the nation's largest inland port in Ashland; many other inland ports on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; 1,100 miles of navigable waterways; five commercial airports and dozens of regional airports. The state's central location is literally "central," a claim made by just about every state, yet rarely validated. Over 60 percent of the U.S. population is within one-day's truck drive. 

We were particularly impressed with the state's nine state parkways that are included in the Commonwealth's 19 interstates or major highways claim. The parkways make traveling the state incredibly easy. Most states in the South feature Interstates and four-lane U.S. highways. The nine state parkways that make up the Kentucky parkway system were originally opened in the 1960s and 1970s as toll roads. The tolls are long gone since they paid for the cost of building the parkway system in the 1990s. The parkways now operate essentially as Interstates and are a major upgrade from typical U.S. highways, meaning that just about every nook and cranny of the state is accessible by Interstate-quality roadway systems.

If workforce is your No. 1 site selection issue, Kentucky has it covered

Students at Morehead State University work on a nano-satellite model. Credit: Morehead State UniversityKentucky takes as much pride in educating its workforce as it does in its wonderful downtown business districts. Like so many Southern states, Kentucky is a state that is transitioning economically. The transitions have been from old-line industries to current and future ones.

States in the South are famous for their workforce training programs and Kentucky is no exception. Workforce training can be a daunting task for some companies for the simple fact that so many entities -- from K-12, technical and community colleges, to four-year institutions -- are involved in the process. The Kentucky Skills Network solves that problem for companies in the Commonwealth because it pulls together all of state's education and workforce training options under one umbrella. Just tell them your needs and the Kentucky Skills Network will find the solutions for you.

"Kentucky's workforce advantages provide tremendous benefits to both workers and companies," said Josh Benton, executive director of workforce development in the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. "Through the Kentucky Skills Network, employees and students have the opportunity to gain the hands-on experience needed to land a quality job and companies have a stronger workforce to choose from – both of which are very important components in growing our state's economy."

A new program called the Kentucky Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) has emerged from an idea Toyota officials came up with. Toyota recognized that the company needed to begin replacing large numbers of retiring workers at its assembly complex that opened in 1988. With help from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, KY FAME enables students to enter a work-and-study program that is sponsored by Toyota or one of its corporate neighbors nearby. The students attend classes two days a week and work for pay the other three days of the week for the sponsor company. When the program ends, the student will earn an associate's degree in Applied Science as well as two years of work experience. The fees for the training program are paid by the sponsor; therefore the student finishes his or her worker training debt-free and is assuredly guaranteed a job with Toyota or one of its suppliers.

The new worker training programs in Kentucky are coming from the very top. Gov. Beshear and Secretary Hayes have made it a priority to craft the Bluegrass State into one of the best states in the country for a ready-to-work workforce. But one of the best moves Kentucky has made regarding its workforce came from First Lady Jane Beshear.

Southern Business & Development recognized First Lady Jane Beshear as one of the "Ten People Who Made a Difference in the South," in its 2014 Ten Top 10s edition. Each year SB&D recognizes 10 people who made a difference in economic development in the South and we honored Jane Beshear for her work in education in Kentucky. Mrs. Beshear is a strong supporter of raising the Commonwealth's high school dropout age.

Governor Steve Beshear and Ann Wilson, Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association senior vice president of government affairs, pose after Beshear was presented with the MEMA State Leadership Award recognizing Kentucky's automotive growth. Credit: CEDA former teacher, Mrs. Beshear championed a law passed in March 2013, that raises the high school dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18 after 55 percent of the state's 173 school districts signed on for the initiative. The higher dropout age becomes standard in 2017. Her husband, Gov. Steve Beshear, signed Senate Bill 97, which allows individual school districts in the Commonwealth to voluntarily raise the dropout age to 18.

The vast majority of Kentucky school boards rushed to raise their dropout age after the bill was approved. In an article published by the Bowling Green Daily News before the bill passed, Jane Beshear said, "Why do we let a 16-year-old decide it's okay to drop out of school? I am determined we raise the dropout age in this state. Any of you that have raised children or any of you that can remember being 16 years old, can you imagine making this life decision?" Gov. Beshear claims that if Kentucky high school dropouts in 2009 had graduated, the state's economy would have an additional $4.2 billion in wages in those students' lifetimes.

The entrepreneurial spirit of Kentucky

Not familiar with Kentucky's accomplishments in encouraging innovation, supporting its small businesses and recognizing entrepreneurship and visionaries in the state? Take a look at the State Entrepreneurship Index (SEI), which ranked Kentucky fourth overall and first in the South in its latest ranking. The SEI was first published in 2008. It combines five factors to formulate the overall state rankings and those are: (1) establishment growth; (2) establishment growth per capita; (3) business formation rates; (4) patents per 1,000 people; and (5) income levels for non-farm proprietors. North Dakota ranked first, California second and New York was third. The only other Southern state besides Kentucky to break the top 10 in the SEI ranking was Texas.

Kentucky continues to receive recognition from other noted sources for its entrepreneurial activity. Data produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Kentucky has the highest percentage growth of business establishments in the nation. The highly respected Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack.com gave Kentucky an "A" rating for small business and business friendliness.

In 2013, Gov. Beshear launched the Office of Entrepreneurship within the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. The Office of Entrepreneurship, whose goals are to strengthen the state's entrepreneurial climate in a variety of ways, oversees the Kentucky Innovation Network. The network consists of 13 offices located throughout the state that offer extensive resources for small and new businesses. These resources include funding initiatives, a variety of financial and incentive programs and marketing and sales assistance.

Innovation hubs are located throughout the state, primarily in those vibrant downtowns mentioned earlier in the article -- no matter how large or small. I have visited innovation districts in Lexington and Covington, Ky. What is going on in those two locations is a sight to behold as small, incubator-born companies are gaining a foothold for larger ventures. I also attended the annual IdeaFestival, presented by the Kentucky Innovation Network in Louisville in the fall quarter, and saw first-hand many of the innovations surrounding the arts, business, technology, design, science and education. 

One of those entrepreneurs I have gotten to know and who has embraced the efforts offered by Kentucky's innovation and entrepreneurial programs is Ankur Gopal, founder and CEO of Interapt. The Louisville based high-tech company is a mobile solutions development firm and has designed apps for Yum Brands and Humana, both of which are headquartered in Louisville.

"From hosting trade missions, to garnering community support to helping find business connections, investing in its high-growth companies, Kentucky works hard for its companies, and it pays off," said Gopal. "I knew our core team could compete with the best tech companies in the world while being to Kentucky."

Recently, Interapt was one of 10 companies worldwide selected by Google to partner with the California tech giant in an effort to design workplace solutions for Google Glass. Gopal and his employees at Interapt immediately began working with Yum! Brands' KFC Corp. and Taco Bell to dig into ways Google Glass can train employees at the workplace, in real-time, while wearing the new technology.

At the news conference in October where Gopal announced that Interapt had been one of only 10 companies certified by Google to be a Google Glass "Glass at Work" partner, former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson said, "Just in case you don't think this is a big deal, the reality is there's only 10 companies in the world that are either in New York, Silicon Valley and now in Louisville." 

Which begs the question, why would Ankur Gopal pick Louisville as the home of his high-tech company that is competing successfully with Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs where the best technology workforces call home? "Kentucky has so many world-recognized companies that are thriving," Gopal said. "Those companies wouldn't be moving forward if they didn't have an innovative community to support that. I knew I could play at that level and make it work for me too."

Conclusion

Visiting Kentucky this fall quarter was the first time we had "barnstormed" the Commonwealth and it was an eye-opener. I must admit, I had no idea Kentucky was such an outstanding state to live, work and own a business. Of course, the only way to know that is to see it, touch it, feel it and be a part of it. And until this past year, I had not done that.

But I have known the economic development leadership in the Commonwealth for years. Your company will be in capable hands if you are looking at Kentucky to locate your business. Gov. Steve Beshear, the folks at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and local economic developers throughout the state are as talented of a bunch as we've seen. The Cabinet is a top-notch, first-class outfit with outstanding leaders and team members. Its marketing motto is "Kentucky, Unbridled Spirit." So if the spirit calls you, call on Kentucky.


  
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