Day two of the Kentucky Chamber’s Business Summit and Annual Meeting, presented by Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP, began with Ted W. Abernathy, Jr., Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, who presented Kentucky’s Economy: Current Trends and Future Realities.
“The overall economy is ‘stuck’ right now,” Abernathy observed, adding that the state of state and local economies vary vastly depending on what region you are in. “There are a lot of parts of this country that have deep unemployment. But in some regions it’s much better – around 6 percent.”
The variables, when it comes to local unemployment levels include age, gender, race and industry sector. He added that unemployment rates for college graduates are very low. “If you have a bachelor’s degree,” he said, “the unemployment rate never went under four percent.”
Abernathy said Kentuckians are looking for leaders who will solve problems – especially those dealing with unemployment, education and workforce development.
“We want someone to take action and solve problems. We don’t want them to sit around and talk about it. We want them to do something.”
Leaders & Laggards
The second presentation on day two of the Summit dealt with a new national report on higher education that gives Kentucky mixed grades. Domenic Giandomenico, director of education and workforce programs for the report-authoring Institute for a Competitive Workforce, discussed Kentucky’s standing in the Leaders and Laggards.
Kentucky’s public colleges and universities received the following scores in the report:
–Student access and success: Four year schools–D; Two-year schools–B
–Efficiency and cost effectiveness: Four-year — D; Two-year–A
–Meeting labor market demand: Four-year — C; Two-year — C
–Transparency and accountability: Four-year –C; Two-year–C
The full report — Leaders and Laggards — is available at ice.uschamber.com.
Later in the afternoon, a panel of business and education leaders had thoughtful reactions to the Leaders and Laggards report.
Alice Houston, president of Houston-Johnson Inc., noted there were no “drop your jaw” surprises in the findings and said it is important to understand the factors that influenced Kentucky’s rankings and work to improve them. She also advocated that universities adopt a business approach to determining the actual cost of a higher education.
Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said that, while disappointed with some of Kentucky’s grades that he agreed with the general thrust of the report’s recommendations. Several strategies are already in place to move the state’s schools forward, he added. King also pointed out that Kentucky has led the nation in recent years in the increase in the number of 25- to 64-year-olds with college degrees and in other categories.
Former Gov. Paul Patton, president of the University of Pikeville, described the report as disappointing and said Kentucky does not have the capacity to educate its population to the national average — “a cold, hard fact.” But anything important that gets done will be difficult, he added, calling on the Chamber to continue its strong advocacy for education improvement.
Energy Realities and Opportunities
The luncheon keynote featured the U.S. Chamber’s Karen Harbert. Harbert serves as the President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy which seeks commonsense energy solutions to secure America’s future. The session, Energy Realities and Opportunities, provided listeners with a thorough portrayal of America’s current energy landscape and where we are headed over the next fifty years.
Harbert noted that, while it pales in comparison to some developing nations such as China and India, the country’s demand for energy will only continue to grow. She sees our future as a combination of both fossil fuels and alternative forms of energy, but believes neither can be stifled by government regulation or industry will never thrive.
Harbert also expressed great concern with our nation’s ability to provide industry with the talent to grow and develop our energy portfolio. Sensible energy policies go hand-in-hand with job growth, but not without the talent of engineers and scientists. Overall, she painted a picture of a country where much work remains to be done, but one where a sustainable energy portfolio is possible and necessary for a competitive future.