Central Kentucky is known as a center for horses, bourbon and basketball. As a center for creative technology people? Not so much.
Yet, technology employment in the Lexington area has grown at a rate that is more than four times the national average in the past decade. More than 6,000 people are now employed by technology and software companies, including Lexmark, Belcan Engineering, ACS/Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and Mersive Technologies.
"I don't think people realize how pervasive technology is here," said Ben Askren, a Lexmark engineer. And that makes it difficult for technology companies to attract and retain the best employees so they can keep growing.
Askren is part of a volunteer group called In2Lex that has worked to help Lexington's creative technology workers get to know each other through events such as Geek's Night Out and Pecha-Kucha, an idea-generation program in which speakers make presentations of no more than six minutes and 40 seconds each.
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Now the group wants to raise Lexington's national profile as a place where creative technology people can find career opportunities and a pleasant, interesting lifestyle.
In2Lex is promoting "April Is ..." to focus attention on more than 20 events being sponsored by several organizations that month. They include the Creative Cities Summit and a "TedX" seminar — a local version of the Technology, Entertainment, Design events that feature big-name speakers with "ideas worth spreading."
Several technology gatherings are planned: the Kentucky Innovation & Technology Conference, the Kentucky Space Conference, and seminars related to electronic health information, mobile devices, government information systems, social entrepreneurship and business development.
And then there's the geeky, fun stuff.
Mechanalia is an interactive game in which small teams drive electric rovers with robotic arms and try to accomplish tasks while opponents shoot at them with tennis-ball cannons; Tinker is a combination jazz festival and science fair for adults; and at the No Mercy Full-Blown Gamers' Party, attendees can play unreleased video games.
All this will be going on during one of Lexington's traditionally interesting months: the horses are running at Keeneland and competing in the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. And then there is the Best of the Bluegrass festival.
"We really want to promote Lexington as a lifestyle, career and education destination for people in creative technology," Askren said.
OK, I can already hear some of you snickering. But, if you think about it, this economic development strategy makes a lot of sense. Digital technology increasingly allows creative workers to live wherever they want. And they usually want to live near a city with a lot of professional opportunities.
Competing with Austin, Texas, and Seattle is a challenge, but Central Kentucky has some advantages that it can exploit. "Once people see what's here, it changes their perception of Kentucky," said Gina Greathouse, Commerce Lexington's senior vice president for economic development.
Those advantages include a laid-back, affordable lifestyle; a beautiful landscape; more arts and cultural offerings than many people realize; and a central location not far from Cincinnati and Louisville. Plus, Lexington has one of the nation's best-educated labor forces: 38 percent of people older than 25 have college degrees, and there are 15 colleges and universities in the area.
Those attributes regularly put Lexington high on national rankings of places to raise a family or start a business.
In2Lex hopes to make its "April Is ..." an annual event, and it is looking for new ways to market the region's creative technology potential. "It really comes down to how do we make Lexington a better place," Askren said.