Ky. Voices: Lexington a global hub on food, feed

Pearse Lyons is founder and president of Alltech.
Pearse Lyons is founder and president of Alltech.

In what has become Lexington's largest annual hotel booking, more than 2,300 people trek into the heart of the Bluegrass for the Alltech International Symposium.

As Tom Eblen said in his May 27 column, it is, "Lexington's biggest annual international event that many people have never heard of."

What started 29 years ago with a one-page agenda has now grown into the food and feed industry's premier symposium, attracting company executives, governmental officials, university faculty, students and researchers from 46 states and 72 countries.

Their walks of life are diverse, but that contributes to the power of the event. One glimpses The Goldman Sachs executive alongside the Argentinean rancher, the Hispanic advertising professional side by side with the life sciences researcher. They come from all corners of the world to share, listen and find ways to work together toward solutions.

For years, the symposium has been a must-attend event — and it's always been held in Lexington. This year I was struck by a new perspective: The 2,300 international delegates represented 877 organizations. Can you imagine what it would cost the state to visit and court these companies? Yet here they were, in Kentucky of their accord.

They were seeing the commonwealth firsthand, experiencing our Southern hospitality and being charmed by our verdant pastures as their flights descended into the region. If just two of the organizations chose to relocate or expand into Kentucky, imagine the impact.

The symposium is an economic boon for Lexington. Not only are hotels filled to capacity, but our delegates bring along guests to enjoy dining out, shopping and experiencing all the city has to offer.

If, on average, they were spending $1,000 each, our delegates this year had an economic impact of at least $2.3 million on Lexington.In addition, Alltech invests into local job creation through the internal production of the event and into local businesses from the convention rental, transportation, printing and more.

In 2012, it was estimated the symposium had a $7.2 million economic impact on Lexington annually. Over the last 29 years, it's fair to say we've generated at least $150 million in economic impact.

Beyond civic economic gain, why does this matter to Lexington and to Kentucky?

1. It is an economic development tool, bringing investors and businesses into the heart of the commonwealth, through an event focused on innovation, ideas, solutions and fun.

2. It is a demonstration of Kentucky's heritage in horses, bourbon, culinary arts and biotechnology. For example, delegates got a firsthand look at what Kentucky State University is doing with aquaponics and then meandered over to cooking demonstrations from chefs showcasing Kentucky Proud products.

3. It is a means of highlighting the pioneering work being done in our universities. In addition to numerous faculty serving as session contributors, more than 40 international journalists attended a press tour at the University of Kentucky, which has a research alliance with Alltech.

The media dined on Coach John Calipari's favorite Italian sausage and other meats produced and sold by UK's meat laboratory. They heard about research at the university in poultry, nutrigenomics (the science of nutrition at the genetic level) and food sciences.

They then spent time at the Sanders-Brown Center, where they learned about the progress being made in conjunction with Alltech on strategies to combat Alzheimer's disease, which affects 5 million Americans and is expected to cost the U.S. government $203 billion in 2013.

4. It puts Kentucky in the driver's seat of global innovation. Attendees toured the Alltech Algae plant, one of only two in the world its size, located in Winchester. As DHA, a nutritional supplement from algae, is proven to be essential to health and wellness, there is little doubt that this technology will be in demand globally, and it is emanating from our corner of the world.

5. Former Gov. Julian Carroll commented that every delegate was leaving as a Kentucky Colonel, an ambassador for the Bluegrass back to their 46 states and 72 countries.

This is the power of "Lexington's biggest annual international event that many people have never heard of."

At issue: May 27 column by Herald-Leader's Tom Eblen, "Alltech shindig a meeting of international minds"

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