Recently I was struck speechless at Morehead State University. I learned that the No. 1 Kentucky export industry is not car parts, bourbon, horses, tobacco, cattle or any of the traditional products associated with Kentucky in the media.
Our primary export is aerospace products. That's right: airplane, spaceship and outer-space stuff.
Did you know there are 36 aerospace-related companies spread across Kentucky?
Currently, 2,000 people are employed by the aerospace industry in Kentucky. From 2011-13, the revenues of the industry have grown from $3.5 billion to $5 billion a year, and every economic indicator suggests the industry will grow 5 percent a year.
I also learned Morehead is leading the way in creating a program and desirable location to attract even more aerospace companies to Eastern Kentucky.
It has created the infrastructure with a $15.6 million Space Science Center and 21-meter satellite tracking dish. There are training opportunities with the space science degree program to educate physicists, astrophysicists, satellite telecommunications technicians, electrical engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists.
The center has labs, production facilities and a satellite-tracking station. Faculty and students are engaged in practical and industry-specific programs with little satellites called cubesats, micro/ nanotechnology, communications, astrophysics, telemetry, production and pretty much anything you can think of related to the aerospace industry.
This is exciting information in itself, particularly if you are a young person who dreams of being the world's first "trillionaire," which is predicted to come from the space industry, or an astronaut, pilot or scientist who finds the planet- killing asteroid and develops the program to save the world. MSU is the place to learn, and you get to live in Eastern Kentucky.
For an old guy like me, the most exciting element was the intent of the Aerospace Day conference to market MSU and Eastern Kentucky to venture capitalists and aerospace industry leaders. The university has set up a forum to share information among the aerospace industry, local schools and local governments.
I learned the cost of taking a trip into space is predicted to be as little as $1,000 in the near future.
Investors and industry leaders learned about the relatively inexpensive cost to build facilities in Eastern Kentucky and the low radio-frequency interference atmosphere of the region.
Every adult there had to be impressed with the enthusiasm and intelligence of the college and high school students present. Why shouldn't every person in Eastern Kentucky get active in pursuing a stronger relationship with MSU on this initiative?
I would love to take credit for this phrase, but it was one I heard at the conference: "California has Silicon Valley; Eastern Kentucky can have Space Holler."
Talk about celebrating your culture while smashing stereotypes.
Chuck Caudill Jr. is a community activist and entrepreneur in Lee County.