Kentucky's economic momentum continues to accelerate. In fact, it's reaching uncharted territory on multiple levels.
The latest sign is a series of historic unemployment reports that demonstrate firsthand the return on investment for an array of aggressive recovery efforts.
The report, based on federal labor statistics, sets Kentucky's seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate at 6 percent for the month of November, the lowest in more than six years. During the recession, the rate hit 10.7 percent.
August marked the first time on record that unemployment rates had fallen from the previous year in every Kentucky county.
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We repeated that feat in September, and again in October. In November, it dropped again in 119 of the 120 counties.
I'm thrilled but not surprised.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia — which measures wages, unemployment rates and payrolls — Kentucky's economic activity reached an all-time high back in June. Based on this index, these economists said that Kentucky had not only recovered but also had exceeded the state's economic losses suffered during the Great Recession.
Good signs span the spectrum of economic measures.
Business growth: In 2014, Kentucky announced more than 350 new location and expansion projects, which are projected to create nearly 15,000 jobs and more than $3.7 billion in new investment.
Federal labor officials ranked Kentucky first among all states for the percentage growth of business establishments in 2013.
Global investment: Recognizing that this is a global market, I've been aggressive about attracting international investors and businesses, visiting countries like Japan, India, Germany, China and France. As a result, Kentucky has been extremely successful in attracting what's called foreign direct investment in the manufacturing, service and technology industries. In 2013, almost 40 percent of new investment and more than 30 percent of new jobs came from foreign investors. Today, Kentucky is home to 433 foreign-owned companies from 31 nations, employing more than 85,000 people.
Exports: Kentucky set a record in 2012 with exports of goods to foreign countries. In 2013, we broke that record, with the second-highest growth in the nation. And in 2014, we will have broken it again.
High-tech: Late this fall, 21 high-tech Kentucky companies were awarded $5.6 million through a program designed to support and attract technology-based small businesses. Since its inception in 2006, Kentucky's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs have awarded nearly $48.6 million to 100 companies that have leveraged an additional $85.3 million in federal funds, ranking us 27th in the nation. Thanks to the program, 34 companies relocated their businesses to Kentucky.
These companies are developing some of the nation's most promising new technologies in areas like treating heart disease in infants, early detection of colon cancer and simplifying communications for the military and first responders.
Entrepreneurship: The State Entrepreneurship Index (SEI) ranked Kentucky fourth in the country in August for our ability to create businesses. That's 45 places higher than last year. We are improving the entrepreneurial environment in Kentucky at a fast pace.
But we're not finished. Recognizing that recovery continues to lag in some areas, and the need for jobs, we continue to act aggressively to recruit investment.
This is both a short-term and a long-term effort. Kentucky continues to improve the quality of its workforce with aggressive health initiatives: new academic standards and a new graduation policy that have increased career and college readiness measure, innovative apprentice programs and more muscular career and technical ed programs.
By addressing fundamental weaknesses that have held Kentucky back for generations, these efforts will improve our competitiveness and capacity long into the future.
I've said it time and again: Our goal is not just to survive but to thrive.