INTERVIEW WITH THE GOVERNOR
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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Governor Andy Beshear:

‘We are on the greatest economic development win streak of my lifetime’

by Mark Arend
N
Gov. Andy Beshear spoke and toured the new $500 million paper mill and box factory from Pratt Industries in the Western Kentucky city of Henderson in September. The complex will produce up to 1,500 tons of 100% recycled paper per day.
Gov. Andy Beshear spoke and toured the new $500 million paper mill and box factory from Pratt Industries in the Western Kentucky city of Henderson in September. The complex will produce up to 1,500 tons of 100% recycled paper per day.
All photos courtesy of Kentucky Office of the Governor

ow in his second term, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear discusses his plans to build on the commonwealth’s capital investment success of his first term, why EV investment is booming, the importance of partnerships with foreign investors and how Kentucky is keeping higher education graduates in state. 

Kentucky has had an impressive run in recent years — over $30 billion in capital investment and more than 52,000 jobs. How will that momentum continue?

Governor Andy Beshear: We are on the greatest economic development win streak of my lifetime, and people should expect the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s momentum to continue into 2024, 2025 and beyond. The first part of that momentum will be the realization of these incredible announcements we have had during the last three years. We’re putting the largest battery plant on planet Earth in Glendale, Kentucky, later this year. There is last year’s opening of Pratt Paper’s cleanest, greenest recycled paper mill in the world, paying nearly $40 an hour to its employees. You will see Kentucky continue to be a premier destination for the world’s largest companies, companies looking to have a footprint in the United States where they can reach the majority of the population, companies that rely on air cargo because of our multiple hubs, from UPS Worldport to DHL to Amazon’s largest investment. You can expect to continue to see Kentucky being the epicenter of the re-emergence of American manufacturing. GE Appliances is making refrigerators here again where folks said that would never be done in the United States again. You will continue to see R&D and technology and companies choosing Kentucky to be close to so much, whether it be the future of EV infrastructure or the supply chains that are necessary to keep our country moving.

Your Forward, Together budget proposal includes $200 million for site development work over the next two years. Is lack of site inventory an issue this seeks to address?

Gov. Beshear: We are excited to still have significant inventory, but our commitment is speed to market. We tell every company that we will get them up and operating faster than anywhere else. We can’t just sit on any industrial site. We have to make sure we are constantly improving them, from water and sewer infrastructure to access roads to increasing acreage, to grading and pads. We should always be working to make a site that much better. Our budget shows our commitment to economic development and to being the place that will win speed to market. It’s $100 million for site development, and $100 million to close mega-deals. Right now, it’s $500 million in water and sewer projects across Kentucky. It’s an extra $300 million on top of our normal road budget to move the Mountain Parkway and I-69 forward. Those will be two major infrastructure projects that will open up other parts of Kentucky for companies that want to be the largest employer in a several-county region. Our education budget, the raises we’re seeking for teachers, universal pre-K — all these things are aimed at creating better opportunities for our people that come with more and greater economic development.

This is in addition to the Kentucky Product Development Initiative?

Gov. Beshear: Of that $200 million, $100 million proposed is the KPDI program. We have now been able to either award or will be awarding every bit of the KPDI program that has been appropriated to date, and you look at how great that program is. You see counties coming together in regional efforts and the applications getting better and better. You look at Mayfield that was able to announce, because of a KPDI program, a new manufacturer six months after they were hit by the worst tornado of our lifetimes, and they broke ground less than a year after that. They will be up and running with 80 employees in an industrial park that is expanding at a rapid pace. It’s because of targeted investments like the KPDI program. The tornadoes hit in December 2021. In 2022, Mayfield made the top 100 towns of its size for economic development — think about that, with half of it just wiped out. That’s what real investment can do.

Kentucky has won some impressive EV projects lately. Why are they coming to Kentucky, and what does the future look like in the automotive industry?

Gov. Beshear: Kentucky has always been a proud automotive state, normally in the top three of just about any category. We have an enormous Ford presence, Toyota. Of course, we make Corvettes for GM as well. We knew that in the future, even though the pace of the future might be in question, the key to electric vehicles is the batteries. We knew that we needed to land these battery plants if we wanted not just to be a current leader in the automotive industry but to be a future, if not the future leader.

 

Gov Interview-1

Gov. Beshear’s first term saw more private-sector investment than any other administration on record in Kentucky.

 

Ford is building the two biggest battery plants on Earth, and AESC is we think in the top 10. That has created a gravity. There are more gigawatt-hours planned in Kentucky than anywhere else, and that creates gravity for all of these suppliers. Folks now do not want an international supply chain, because it’s not reliable. The closer you can have a supply chain and the more redundant it can be with multiple OEMs, the more security these companies will have. If you are a supplier and you come to Kentucky, you have at least two very large OEMs to do business with. You’re also in a place where you have rail, river, air and highway that gets you just about anywhere in the United States. We are a perfect place to build the electric vehicles of the future, from the battery to the assembly to recycling like Ascend Elements is going to do in Hopkinsville. We are also in a great place if you need to ship any of that to anywhere else in the U.S.

Foreign direct investment is a significant part of Kentucky’s economy. How are you building on this going forward? 

Gov. Beshear: We are proud to be a welcoming state that has more foreign direct investment than many, Japan being our largest investor with their largest Toyota plant in the United States, and so many others. For our Japanese friends, we have ensured that we are not just a welcoming state, but we take steps to lessen the burden, especially on executives and others coming over with things like reciprocity for drivers’ licenses and Japanese schools and other ways that we cannot only show our appreciation but encourage further investment.

We are doing the same with South Korea right now. SK On has made a multibillion-dollar investment in Kentucky. We also have Korean companies in Northern Kentucky and other parts of our state. When we look at the technology that is required to move into the future of so many industries, that is a country where we already have created an important relationship. 

We can be that perfect location where you can reach 60% of the country’s population in a one-day drive, and we have UPS Worldport, DHL and others. We can be an important starting place for companies that want to locate and ultimately do business in the United States. We want to continue to nurture our relationships with German and other European companies. We still have great trade partners in Great Britain and Canada, which continue to purchase a lot of our goods. We want to welcome as much foreign direct investment as we can. We also realized that exports are critical for us. Bourbon is not only the favorite drink right now of America, but much of the world. So, we have to focus on trade policy. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has been a great ally to Kentucky in reversing some very concerning tariffs that’s allowed this product made almost exclusively in Kentucky to reach around the world.

Certainly, we need our federal partners, but it’s about how we can be a good partner, especially to small and medium size businesses where this is not something that they regularly do. Most of our larger and international companies understand exports. But it’s about how we can provide the education, how we can provide some basic tools and how we can take a medium size company and open up world markets and turn them into a larger company where they can expand and grow.

Much of what government can do is to bring people together. We created a metals industry group so we can work together on job training and workforce development, and where we can look at curriculum in schools, where we can look at different infrastructure and power needs. We’re doing the same thing with suppliers and the supply chain in Kentucky. Any of our Kentucky companies are best off if they have a reliable supplier in the state that not only saves them on transportation costs but it creates a closer relationship to more quickly address any issues that arise. We also know it creates more jobs in Kentucky. Our CONNEX Kentucky tool allows all of our Kentucky companies to search for suppliers from other companies for free.

What are the workforce challenges Kentucky faces in the year ahead?

Gov. Beshear: I’m proud that Kentucky has some of not only the best workforce training, but potential future training compared to just about any other state. We have invested $250 million in renovating career and technical education facilities in our high schools all over the state. The idea there is those entry-level workers, especially in these new advanced manufacturing facilities, can have one or two years of training before someone even leaves high school with the internships, with the direct pipeline ready to go to work. Each of these facilities can be sponsored, everything from a nursing program or hospital as they start nurses through that program to the advanced manufacturing like robotics. It’s also how some of our rural areas can attract really great advanced manufacturing, which we have seen from Atlas putting one of their headquarters in Breckinridge County and announcing the most jobs we’ve ever seen in a single announcement from that county. 

 

Gov. Beshear’s first term saw more private-sector investment than any other administration on record in Kentucky.

 

Our community and technical colleges launched an education-first employer program that says we’re going to move away from just academia and credentials. You give us the curriculum you need, and we will design a program, a curriculum, a credential and you will be able to track your workforce through the two years of that program. It’s an onsite credit where we can train someone for your workforce or, once they’re in your workforce, specifically train them for where you need them. Then we have our universities that have great engineering programs amongst others. Recently we saw EKU come out with an advanced manufacturing engineering credential that you see in some foreign countries. You have the great engineering schools at UK and UofL and many of our other locations. And we have regional universities and private universities that are dedicated to meeting the workforce needs with fewer barriers than you would find in other places. A company can come to us even needing thousands of jobs and we can say, “Give us a menu of the training you need from entry level to the most technologically trained individual, and we have the structure that exists. We just need that menu to show you how it will be done and to allow you to track it in real time while we’re doing it.”

We’ve talked about the importance of keeping Kentucky college graduates in the state and not relocating elsewhere. Are you satisfied with progress there?

Gov. Beshear: We were No. 1 in the country in increased college and graduate enrollment last year. It’s exciting to see more people pursue higher education and we need to make sure they are staying here once they have achieved it. This is the moment where we are going to see more of our kids stay and we’re seeing more of our people coming back. In the post-Covid world, Kentucky is going to be an economic leader. We are going to see major changes in where people locate and where they want to work. We believe we are the perfect location, and we are welcoming so many Kentuckians back who at one point felt that they had to leave, period. Now we are seeing folks who might have gone somewhere else for college coming back and choosing to stay in Kentucky because they know the job they want, and it’s in Kentucky. 

Do you have specific industrial development goals for 2024?

Gov. Beshear: We are committed to making sure 2024 is one of our very best years. 2021 and 2022 boomed. The economy took a rest last year and I think is ready to surge again. Our goal is to continue to grow as much as we can because we still have significant capacity and great sites. In 2022, we were No. 2 in per capita economic development and No. 3 in the creation of rural jobs or micropolitan economic development. When we look at that, we’re doing it right and that’s what companies are looking for. They are not just looking to be in the largest urban areas anymore. They’re looking at a five- or six-county area where they can be a major employer is what we’re seeing. In Allen County near the Tennessee border, we just announced a couple hundred jobs. This is the time when we can attract the very best jobs and make sure that they are everywhere. The same way we want to make sure that all of our bright people stay in Kentucky, the folks in Eastern Kentucky want to make sure that they stay in Eastern Kentucky. It’s the same in Western Kentucky. 

We always want our kids to be able to choose and for that to be a real choice. Companies that have come and companies that will come are going to be proud that they chose Kentucky. It’s a place with a special sense of home and all of our companies within a year feel that regardless of where their leadership comes from. North American Stainless is doing its 13th expansion over just a couple of decades. It’s ultimately a Spanish-owned company, and you hear them talk about how critical Kentucky is and what a part of the Kentucky culture they feel. We have some of the hardest working people you’ll find anywhere in the world, and a lot of places where we’re looking to locate companies are places where people are former coal miners or steel workers. You reskill people who have broken their backs building this country, and you have the greatest workforce you could ever ask for. 

Mark Arend
Editor Emmeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 





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