KENTUCKY CABINET INTERVIEW
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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Team Kentucky’s Role as Super Collaborators

KCED Secretary Jeff Noel emphasizes the importance of statewide collaboration.

KENTUCKY CABINET INTERVIEW
Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development Secretary Jeff Noel.
Photo courtesy of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce

by RON STARNER
W

hen was the last time you drove the 398 miles from Pikeville to Paducah twice on successive days and racked up tens of thousands of miles around your state? That’s exactly what Jeff Noel has been doing in Kentucky. As the state’s Secretary for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Noel represents the economic development interests of all 120 counties statewide.

That means three things: a lot of meetings out in the field; a lot of mileage racked up on the road; and a lot of fantastic meals enjoyed away from home.

Through it all, Noel said he’s seen a persistence and resilience characterized by the people of his state that he has not witnessed anyplace else. He’s also seen firsthand their commitment to winning with integrity – something they do quite well.

Since the start of the Beshear Administration, Kentucky has experienced a record-setting run in economic development. In fact, capital investment during the administration has exceeded any prior four- or eight-year term in the Bluegrass State.

We recently caught up with Noel to discuss what has made Kentucky so successful and get some insight into what’s next for the commonwealth.

Kentucky is coming off a record-setting four-year run in economic development. What are the factors in Kentucky that were most responsible for producing this historic period of accomplishment?

NOEL: We seek to always provide the best products and service to help companies attain speed to market. We strive to deliver the best quality and best value in everything a company needs. We have built deep relationships with site consultants and company leaders and created a process with every state and local agency such that whatever is needed to create jobs, we have a true team approach to getting things done. What sets us apart from other states is that we are crystal clear in communicating what we are going to do, by when and how we will go about things accomplished. We deliver on everything we say we are going to do, ahead of schedule. 

Team Kentucky has created a Collaborative Blueprint for Kentucky. What was the impetus for that effort?

NOEL: Everything successful begins with leadership. Kentucky’s success is tied to the fact that we have a great leader in Gov. Beshear. We all unite to create the successes we achieve. With this new blueprint for Kentucky, we are adopting a platform for success that he has helped lead and create. We must make sure that we seize this opportunity and create more sustainable successes for all of Kentucky.

 

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What is the end goal for this blueprint from an economic development standpoint?

NOEL: It outlines for the next few years the five key areas of focus to enable growth in our state. The blueprint also pinpoints five interdependent enablers for measurable results. Our goal was to produce the best work plan based on feedback from literally thousands of key process partners statewide to better serve our residents.

Has Kentucky made any significant legislative changes recently to further bolster the state’s arsenal of tools for economic development?

NOEL: Go back to 2022. The willingness of the Governor and our legislative leaders to set aside $200 million to invest in shovel-ready sites and provide added resources when projects need them has been fantastic. Kentucky is also investing in more career and technical education centers with innovative programs that link businesses with students for career/work experiences. 

 

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We have seen the largest infrastructure project in our history go from concept to reality. The Brent Spence Companion Bridge in Northern Kentucky through Cincinnati and the completion of Mountain Parkway are examples of transformative projects that are fully funded and underway.  

Finding the best ways to invest in our communities, our infrastructure and our people are creating high-paying jobs at a record pace. Great companies need great people, and both need great communities, and our focus has always been on supporting these key areas. 

What are your expectations for 2024? Do you see this positive momentum continuing?

NOEL: Without a doubt. We will continue to win in the automotive sector, leading growth and opportunities in the manufacturing renaissance occurring in this country while being innovators in core industries like metals, agritech and life sciences while growing more than our fair share of business and financial services jobs.  

We are, without a doubt, a state that is leading in entrepreneurship, innovation and problem-solving. We celebrate and promote coordination of workforce services and placemaking. Kentucky’s economic developers are the professionals that bring people together to perpetually make things better. 

Our programs and services are purposeful in meeting the needs of each of our unique yet interdependent 120 counties.  

You compete against Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and the Carolinas for business investments. You win more than your fair share of these projects. What sets your state apart?

NOEL: Team Kentucky is real. We make it clear what we are going to do to support companies, whether existing or new. We establish milestones of when these things must be delivered. I have worked in other states. Everyone thinks the work is over when the project announcement is made. In Kentucky, that is when the real work begins. We understand what it takes to get a workforce ready and up to speed. We do check-ins to make sure everything is happening as promised. All cabinet secretaries collectively report to the Governor bi-weekly on where we stand on each and every milestone for our existing and new business projects.  

One of our core values at Team Kentucky is winning with graciousness and gratitude. That makes Kentucky unique and special. Also, we have found a way to remove that fear of big numbers. The world is changing. The size of projects is larger than ever before. We simply do whatever it takes to win them. 

The electric vehicle and battery sectors are growing rapidly. How is your state responding to this growing demand for large developable sites, labor and speed to market?

NOEL: When you are winning, you always must raise the bar on your own standards of success. We have created our own Kentucky Shovel-Ready standard that enables a prospect to have a full understanding of every facet of the site, where to find the workforce and complete transparency into how our incentives work. We remove uncertainty and from the start have a built-in process to work collaboratively to swiftly deal with any issue that arises for a company to know that speed to market is our commitment and we will deliver as promised. 

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.

  





Team Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear shares his vision on the state's success and how he intends to grow the state's agritech sector.   






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