As 2008 comes to a close, major business news remained rooted in the recession with problem sectors such as housing, which continued to cast a pall over the economy and its outlook throughout the year.
What industries and organizations will fuel major changes in 2009 or see themselves undergo major changes? Here are 10 situations to watch: five that will make news in and around Lexington, as well as five with national implications but local significance, too.
World Equestrian Games
The giant countdown clocks in downtown Lexington provide a constant reminder that the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games visit Kentucky in a little more than 600 days.
The 16 days of competition are expected be an economic boon to the community, with every industry looking to capitalize on the influx of visitors.
And with time diminishing, 2009 will see continued work on projects at the Kentucky Horse Park and around the city. Keep an eye open for more announcements of sponsorships.
A feasibility study on replacing Rupp Arena is due early in 2009 with a decision on whether to proceed expected sometime after that.
The University of Kentucky would be developing the new downtown basketball arena, which would continue to be managed by the Lexington Center Corp.
IMG College, the world's largest sports-marketing company, is doing the feasibility study and proposing a financing plan that would use stadium revenue and not public money. The downtown stadium could be up and running by the 2014 or 2015 basketball season. Also look for more discussion on future uses for the current Rupp Arena.
CentrePointe and Distillery District
Lexington's two top downtown developments dominated headlines in 2008 and are expected to continue doing that in 2009.
Questions continue to swirl around the private, unidentified financiers behind CentrePointe, the J.W. Marriott Hotel and condominium project being developed by The Webb Companies. Vocal critics, including Vice Mayor Jim Gray, have questioned whether the now-destroyed block of downtown will ever see the buildings come. And the Distillery District, a proposed arts and entertainment area along Manchester Street, is seeking state contributions to a tax-increment financing plan that is to help pay for public improvements to the area. The developer, Barry McNees, has said that the financing is crucial to the project, which includes the refurbishing of a historic distillery.
Lexington's government also is looking to use tax-increment financing for public improvements around the CentrePointe project.
Horse market and Keeneland
The national Thoroughbred breeding market went into a steep decline in the fall of 2008, prompting cuts in stud fees even for top stallions. Shrinking demand and oversupply of horses prompted many farms to scale back plans for breeding in 2009.
And horsemen expect auction spending to be down again in the coming year.
The downturn comes as a separate issue emerges in Kentucky's signature industry: Keeneland's future.
The race course is studying how it can best expand and expects to have more information about a consultant in the early part of 2009.
What the study suggests could determine whether Keeneland will attempt to lure the Breeders' Cup to Lexington in 2011, the 75th anniversary of the famed track.
Gov. Steve Beshear has called for the state legislature to boost Kentucky's cigarette tax from 30 cents to $1 a pack when it meets in January. With the state budget in need of its own kind of bailout, resistance to at least some increase in the cigarette tax appears to be diminishing.
Many favor the increase, saying reduced smoking rates could drive down employers' health care costs.
Tobacco is of diminishing importance to the state's economy, but tobacco retailers along the state's border benefit from out-of-staters stocking up with the cheaper packs of smokes.
National (yet local)
Wall Street's vast drop and volatility defined 2008. As 2009 opens, some think the market might begin a slow rise and see opportunities to buy. Others fear the economic news won't improve until at least the middle of the year, leaving the stock markets in question for some time.
And Lexington companies haven't been immune to the volatility. Shares of Lexmark International, the only Fortune 500 company based in Lexington, started the year in the mid-$30 range but found themselves in the mid-$20 range throughout November and December. The same goes for mattress maker Tempur-Pedic International, which started in the mid-$20s, only to settle in below $10 during the last couple months of the year.
Overall, the market experienced a less volatile December. Continued stability in 2009 would be welcomed by investors who hope the worst is behind them.
Next year appears grim for automakers of all countries of origin.
American sales through November of General Motors' vehicles fell 22 percent year-over-year.
And while foreign automakers such as Toyota initially benefited from increased sales of their high-profile fuel-efficient vehicles, the Japanese auto titan is showing weakness, too. With manufacturing plants idling until demand rises, shock waves are expected throughout auto suppliers and all the other businesses, such as nearby restaurants, that depend on America's auto workers.
The Bush administration allowed enough in federal loans to keep GM and Chrysler around long enough for the Obama administration to propose a long-term solution. Efforts to loosen up credit markets and increase buying power need to take hold for a recovery to begin.
On Feb. 18, all major TV stations will have abandoned their analog signals and gone exclusively digital.
Any television with cable or satellite service will continue to work, but those that get only over-the-air channels and don't have a digital tuner will need a converter box.
Visit www.dtv2009.gov for more information. If you have trouble with a local station's reception, call these numbers and ask for the following personnel:
■ WLEX: Sean Franklin, 259-1818.
■ WKYT: Mike Kanarek, 299-0411.
■ WDKY: Dave Kollar, 269-5656.
■ WTVQ: Jerry May, 294-3636.
■ WKLE: A dedicated line is 1-866-291-8189.
The housing market correction continued throughout 2008, and things aren't looking much better for 2009.
Sales of homes have shriveled. In Kentucky, home sales plunged 19.6 percent to 10,574 homes in the third quarter of 2008, the Kentucky Association of Realtors said.
Foreclosures continued to dominate headlines, and President-elect Barack Obama has promised action to help reduce the number nationally.
Home builders are having their share of financial troubles as well and will be cautious going into 2009.
In the third quarter, U.S. consumer spending fell the most it has in 28 years.
The lifeblood of the economy, consumer spending props up all forms of retail, which suffered mightily in 2008 leading to closing of retail stores and making the always difficult restaurant industry even more precarious.
Another federal stimulus package, potentially larger than the $700 billion bailout, is on the Obama administration agenda. How much can it help?