Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was in Lexington on Thursday to give a pitch for regional cooperation on an economic development initiative announced in August to improve the two cities' competitive edge in advanced manufacturing.
The Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, or BEAM, is a project put together by Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray with help from The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Brookings chose Lexington and Louisville to work with on developing a comprehensive business plan for economic development.
Gray introduced Fischer when he spoke to the Rotary Club on Thursday. Gray said after the meeting that when the two sat together at the Kentucky-Louisville football game in Louisville, he told Fischer he had spent more time in the River City in the past 10 months than he had in the previous 10 years.
Fischer and Gray have been on ambitious speaking schedules in recent weeks, spreading the word about the "super region" initiative.
Fischer said for a small state like Kentucky to move forward, "It makes no sense for the two biggest cities to compete against each other. The days of competing against each other are over. Today our competition is Seoul, Korea; Charlotte; Chicago. We've got to start thinking how we can work together to our strategic advantage."
For too long, Lexington and Louisville have spent energy on college sports rivalries and differences that separate them, rather than looking at resources they share, Fischer said.
With teamwork, the state can get ahead, he said. The goal of the economic initiative is to create high-quality jobs and to increase exports by making Kentucky a global center of excellence in advanced manufacturing.
With Toyota and Lexmark in Central Kentucky and Ford and GE plants in Louisville, the two urban areas already have more advanced manufacturing jobs than most other cities, Fischer said. Together, 14 percent of the jobs in the two urban centers are manufacturing, compared to 10 percent nationally. Of those, 100,000 workers are in automotive manufacturing alone.
Leading the BEAM project is sports entrepreneur Jim Host, founder of Host Communications, who recently orchestrated the successful opening of the KFC Yum Center in Louisville.
The BEAM effort will be funded with $250,000 in private contributions, most from businesses. Fischer told the Rotary audience that all but $50,000 had been raised. Brookings will donate about $750,000 worth of research and strategic services. The Bloomberg Foundation of New York gave Louisville $4.8 million to improve city government; half of that will go to this initiative.
Host addressed Urban County Council members on Tuesday. He was not there to ask the council for financial support, he said. "What we are asking is you be a champion for the project and help spread the word. We need your thoughts, your ideas," Host said.
The approximately 20 members of BEAM's board of directors will be announced at 2 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort.
Host described board members as the "creme de la creme" of manufacturing, business and education in the two cities — presidents, CEOs and executive directors. University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and University of Louisville President James Ramsey will serve on the board.