Ky. Voices: KY can be leader in autos, energy and health care

December 16, 2012 

In 2006 I stopped over at Ramstein Air Base in Germany en-route from Iraq. That night I had dinner with some Army folks I met on the plane. We were all struck by the sudden changes in our circumstances. A day earlier all of us had been under fire. Then we were in a modern restaurant sipping whiskey and eating steaks.

I never felt so disoriented; sitting there my hand actually reached down to my seat for balance. Seeing the motion one of the soldiers said, "Hey, better watch it there, Captain," pointing to my whiskey glass. I just smiled and said I haven't drunk it yet.

Luckily I made it home in time for the birth of my youngest son before returning downrange.

Sometimes where we are and where we want to be are worlds apart. Being born and raised in Kentucky, I know we are not where we want to be as a state. The prosperous place we want seems far away. The good news is we can get there.

The model is our map. By transforming our state into a national and even global solutions engine we can create a new economic landscape and a more prosperous future.

Assembling resources, building partnerships and crafting supporting policies will attract investment and jobs and bring new solutions to our own problems into reach. It starts by using assets we already have.

Modernizing government is a critical challenge to our nation. Kentucky already has innovators working on the problem. Go Madisonville is a Web-based, smartphone driven approach to modern governance delivering results.

If you're tired of waiting weeks for a government form to arrive in the mail, imagine a day when you click on your smartphone application and get what you need right then.

Private businesses are already doing it. Giving incentives to other counties and cities to adopt similar technologies could improve service delivery and reduce costs in Kentucky while creating lessons learned for the federal government.

Reducing inefficiencies and streamlining federal government services could save taxpayers billions each year. Kentucky can be a leader in government modernization.

Health care is a major challenge for Kentucky and our nation. Across the country, new innovation centers and health-care information technology companies have embarked to eliminate medical errors, waste and inefficiency which cost our country $700 billion annually.

Kentucky has a high number of chronically ill people in need of solutions; their demand can be harnessed to drive innovation. Creating a health-care innovation center in Eastern Kentucky, where most of those chronically ill people are located, could attract new companies and synthesize new health care solutions.

It would do four things: improve wellness delivery; reduce health care costs; attract high-tech, high-paying jobs to Kentucky; and provide a model for the nation. Thank you Dr. Dan Mongiardo, it's a great idea.

Kentucky is a national leader in the energy industry. The coal industry has taken some hard hits this year, but it's recovered from similar hits in the past. There is evidence the U.S. may be on the cusp of a new era of energy production, and Kentucky will be part of it. Extraction of energy resources has historically generated more wealth outside Kentucky than in it. We need to learn from the past.

Appalachian Ohio is already using development agencies to apply revenue from new gas extraction toward investment in education and entrepreneurship.

Eastern Kentucky should think about how it might follow suit. We have a number of development organizations that didn't exist when the coal and gas industry began which today are in a good position to harness new wealth toward building vibrant, sustainable communities.

Kentucky is the third-largest manufacturer of automobiles nationally. The automobile industry accounts for three percent of our gross domestic product and is beginning a major transformation. By anticipating industry demand Kentucky can reap the benefits.

Smart cars will offer drivers an experience in 20 years we can only dream of today. This year, California became the third state to legalize driverless cars. But who will be the first to develop the technology to deliver new driving experiences?

Kentucky could reap billions in new income by making it a priority to get there first. We can do it through partnerships with manufacturers, universities and communities designed to find new solutions and create new technologies. It would also attract high-tech, high-paying jobs to our state.

We can put Kentucky on a path to becoming a national solutions engine and an economic powerhouse. By beginning this journey today, we can shape our future into a more prosperous place for our children tomorrow.

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