Regional Fed leader says education is the key for Kentucky

To dramatically improve its fortunes, Kentucky should focus on raising education levels and building an economy that stresses innovation. That is part of the message delivered by Sandra Pianalto, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, who is visiting the area Wednesday and Thursday.

During her visit, she will speak with business leaders, including at Thursday's Rotary Club meeting, to gauge their sentiments on the economy. She'll take her observations to her colleagues who together shape the nation's monetary policy.

She said she expects business leaders to be cautious about the fragile economic recovery. But when asked about long-term growth, she and her advisers told the Herald-Leader's editorial board that the keys are education and innovation.

"Kentucky has made a lot of progress on the high school side," said Mark Schweitzer, senior vice president and research director. "Kentucky has still struggled, though, at the college end. Lexington looks great, but it's a big state."

Pianalto pointed to cities like Pittsburgh and noted that such long-term success is possible but takes patience.

"They were in desperate shape a long time ago, and they made efforts to improve their situation," she said. "And it turns out one of the factors they've improved is college attainment."

Pianalto added she feels the message of better education is getting through to government leaders.

"We're hearing more and more from business leaders, and I think that message is coming through to politicians as they hear that there are job openings because you don't have the people with the right skills," she said, emphasizing the advancements in manufacturing that require more educated workers. "We do need to make sure we're making students prepared for that kind of work."