Lexington, Louisville to study economic partnership

Lexington and Louisville will soon begin studying ways the cities can cooperate on regional economic development, specifically how to become more competitive in advanced manufacturing such as the automotive industry.

Mayors Jim Gray and Greg Fischer pointed to the Ford and Toyota plants as evidence that the state's two largest cities already are a center of advanced manufacturing but can do more.

"Those investments in people and process are significant, and we really have to ask ourselves if we're leveraging these assets adequately. ... Both Greg and I have backgrounds in business, and it's part of our DNA to be out marketing and selling," Gray said Thursday.

The 18-month study will be led by businessman Jim Host, who recently wrapped up work overseeing the development of the KFC Yum Center in downtown Louisville. Host said that project, with which he was involved for more than five years, helped him learn a great deal about Louisville.

"Up until last October, I drove every day from Lexington to Louisville to work on that facility and drove back at night," he said. "I've learned what makes Louisville work and have felt for many years that the Lexington-Louisville corridor should be like the Dallas-Fort Worth corridor."

Host noted the formal partnership will build on an informal one in the past few years. For instance, members of Commerce Lexington last year joined counterparts from Greater Louisville, the city's chamber of commerce, for a trip to study regional cooperation in Pittsburgh.

"These two communities have always been at opposite poles, and it's crazy in this state for these two communities to not work together," Host said.

The city's mayors will appoint the committee to do the study, and Host expects the first meeting to take place in August or September. The group will be assisted by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy research firm in Washington, D.C. Laura Chandler, who worked on the Louisville Arena Authority with Host, will serve as project manager.

Gray and Fischer will elaborate on the study during a luncheon Aug. 11 in Louisville and a Commerce Lexington-sponsored luncheon Aug. 17 in Lexington.

Host said he has a few tangible suggestions the study will develop but declined to share them, saying he preferred they be discussed at the group's first meeting.

"There's nothing more important to this state than the cooperation between Lexington and Louisville," he said. "Forty cents of every tax dollar generated in Louisville helps the rest of Kentucky, and 20 cents of every tax dollar generated in Lexington helps the rest of Kentucky.

"The better we can help economic development in the two cities, the better it helps the state."