A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Whenever corporate leaders scout for new locations to expand or re-locate their business, they consider such obvious things as infrastructure, government incentives, taxes and the cost to build.
Above all else, though, they look at the quality of the local workforce, according to annual surveys done by Site Selection magazine, a national trade publication that tracks economic development.
Fortunately, Kentucky knows this area well, having been ranked among the leading states for years in workforce development. The results are showing just how beneficial this investment has been, given that we are also among the top states in attracting large-scale industrial projects that invest at least $1 million, create 50 or more jobs or add at least 20,000 square feet of floor space.
Kentucky averaged nearly one of these projects a day in 2012, a rate that Site Selection says only nine other states beat. Combined, these projects created about 14,000 new jobs across the commonwealth and brought in almost $2.7 billion in investment.
Our success is not a short-term blip, either; in fact, we have been among the top 15 states in this category for the last five years. While recognizing that some industries such as coal and construction have been hit especially hard, Kentucky did add more than 21,000 jobs between August 2012 and August 2013.
Beyond workforce development, there are other factors in our favor, such as having industrial electricity costs that are a fifth below the national average; being centrally located; and, as a CNBC study found, having the lowest overall cost of doing business in the country.
A renewed focus on education is helping us take the next step. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education says the number of workers who have a bachelor’s degree has increased 80 percent over the last two decades, while those with a high school diploma or less has declined by a tenth.
During last year’s and this year’s legislative sessions, meanwhile, the General Assembly set the stage for a major overhaul of the career and technical education programs that are available to our older students.
In the 2011-12 school year, more than 150,000 students – about three-fourths of our public high school population – took at least one of these courses, which run from agri-science and business administration to machine-tool technology and the health sciences.
About a fifth of these students take three or more of these types of classes, and in 2009-10, more than 90 percent of this group either went on to college, joined the military or started their career right after graduating. A longer comparison shows just how far we have come, given that, in 2003, a fifth of community and technical education students were not employed or attending school after graduation.
With more than 70 campuses spread across the state, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) is playing a vital role in preparing tomorrow’s workforce. The most recent figures show that more than a fourth of all jobs require at least postsecondary vocational training, and jobs needing an associate’s degree were projected in 2010 to grow by 19 percent by 2018.
Kentucky has seen a lot of success when considering the gains our employees have made over the last dozen years, but this is an area where there are no awards for complacency. We can’t risk letting other states – and even other competing countries – pass us by. We need to continue building on these gains.
If you have any thoughts on this issue, I would like to know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.