Study: Lexington, Louisville must improve work force to be a manufacturing hub

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 25, 2013 

The region needs a much more skilled engineering and technical work force if it is to become a global manufacturing hub, according to a report released Monday by the mayors of Lexington and Louisville.

The study — "Seizing the Manufacturing Moment: An Economic Growth Plan for the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky" — focuses on the 22 counties that form the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement region.

The Louisville-Lexington region is poised to take advantage of the U.S. resurgence in manufacturing, the report said. However, the region must focus more intently on innovation, research and development, and improving the work force so people have the right skills for the 21st-century jobs, the report said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray released the report Monday in partnership with the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The report's executive summary said the overall goal was to strengthen the region's advanced manufacturing sector to capitalize on its potential to create solid jobs and boost wages.

It's the culmination of a two-year effort by the mayors. The two came up with the idea during a Kentucky-Louisville basketball game.

Fischer and Gray, at the time new mayors and businessmen with strengths in the manufacturing sector, enlisted the help of Brookings to develop a business plan. They also created the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement board with academic and corporate leaders from the region.

"We are fierce competitors on the court, but we are now fierce partners in economic development," Gray said. "The study proves that Central Kentucky has manufacturing in its DNA, and it provides a road map for building on that advantage, and turning Central Kentucky into a global manufacturing hub."

Some of the key findings from the Brookings report include:

■ Almost 2 million people live in the BEAM region, and it accounts for $92 billion in gross domestic product — 53 percent of the state total.

■ The region contains more than 1,600 firms producing a variety of goods, including 97 percent of the world's bourbon.

■ Manufacturers are investing billions in Central Kentucky, and the number of jobs posted in manufacturing in Kentucky has risen 66 percent in the last two years.

The report recommends some strategies:

■ Solidify the partnership between Louisville and Lexington to produce more jobs and collaborate on strategies.

■ Develop support for advanced manufacturing centered on innovation and technology.

■ Increase global demand for Kentucky products.

■ Diversify the economy into technology-based firms and knowledge industries.

■ Enhance the metropolitan areas as attractive places to live, work and do business.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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