Kentucky’s advantages, challenges, and opportunities highlighted at 2018 Kentucky Chamber Business Summit

Kentucky business leaders gathered in Louisville for the 13th annual Business Summit to hear from policymakers and experts on the most critical issues facing the state. Below is a summary of each presentation at the 2018 Kentucky Chamber Business Summit.

Kentucky vs U.S.- In the opening session of the Business Summit Thursday, Ted Abernathy of Economic Leadership LLC discussed where Kentucky stands compares to the rest of the country in a number of areas and what the Commonwealth needs to do in order to become more competitive in the future.

ted abernathyAbernathy noted Kentucky lags behind much of the rest of the country on job growth. While areas like trade and manufacturing are strong in the state, Kentucky has not caught up with technology jobs and other areas.

The need for a strong and healthy workforce was a key theme in Abernathy’s presentation as talent is a critical for companies looking to locate to a state. Abernathy said workforce is at the forefront of needs as there are currently qualitative and quantitative challenges.

He stated the work Kentucky has done over the last decade on education and approving achievement has really paid off as the state’s rankings have improved greatly but added the low ranking seen in the number of Kentuckians with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher are concerning.

Abernathy also said Kentucky and businesses in the state should be focused on the future of technology as well as highway access, labor costs, quality of life, proximity of suppliers and others as companies are primarily focused on these areas when considering where to locate.

Trade, Tariffs, and Kentucky’s Economy- As trade and the impact of tariffs of continues to be an important topic of conversation in the state and across the country, a panel of experts in the field discussed the importance of trade and the developing trade war underway between the U.S. and several countries and its impact on Kentucky with moderator Ashli Watts, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at the Kentucky Chamber.

Trade panelKentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, U.S. Chamber Sr. VP John Murphy, Auto Industry Association Executive Director Dave Tatman, and Ontario Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rocco Rossi discussed how recent tariffs and plans to expand tariffs on automotive, agriculture, and many other products have created uncertainty for business, and higher costs for consumers while threatening jobs.

Murphy explained the work of Congress in addressing the tariffs and legislation being debated. He also spoke about the critical need we have to tap new markets.

Tatman stated that discussions surrounding trade are important but ultimately a compromise needs to be forged to avoid lost jobs. He reminded the audience that the Toyota Camry is one of the most American made cars with 70% American made components.

The group also discussed trade agreements and how the tariffs impact their future. Rossi expressed the need for the U.S. to pursue multi-lateral agreements to avoid missing out on large blocks of nations joining together. Quarles, however, expressed that there is value to bilateral agreements.

Regarding Canada’s future relationships with the U.S. and Kentucky, Rossi stated that the relationship is centuries old and while politics are impacting it now, in the end there will still be a relationship likening the situation to how families fight and makeup.

The panelists all agreed that there are workable solutions for the U.S. Conversations must continue, negative perceptions of trade must be addressed, and agreements must be reached to open the U.S. to new markets.

Jones and Jennings panelKentucky Politics- With election season in Kentucky in full swing, Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones, RunSwitch PR Co-Founder and CNN Contributor Scott Jennings discussed Kentucky politics with moderator Jacqueline Pitts, Managing Editor of The Bottom Line.

Jennings and Jones discussed their predictions for the Kentucky governor’s race, what they expect from the state legislative races in November, and contentious elections at the federal level. Read a full story about the panel and find a video of the full discussion on The Bottom Line here.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic- As opioid addiction continues to ravage the country and have heartbreaking impacts on individuals and families across the Commonwealth, the author of an award-winning book described as the “single most well researched, well written, and heartbreaking account on the plague of the opiate addiction” detailed how the country got here and what must be done to address the epidemic in his opening keynote address at the Summit Friday morning.

Sam QuinonesSam Quinones is a journalist, storyteller, former LA Times reporter, and author of three acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction. His most recent book is Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.

In his speech, he said the issue began with a shift in how America deals with pain management and an expectation by the American people that we are entitled to a life without pain and the reliance on medicine to “fix” everything that ails someone.

Quinones stated increased marketing for pain medication and the increased discussions around pain enacted a revolution and was often leading to doctors being sued for not aggressively treating chronic pain, which he said led to the increased prescription of oxycontin and other painkillers.

The increase in Oxycontin was the bridge to heroin, Quinones said, as people became addicted no longer had access to expensive opioids and turned to the cheaper option of heroin.

In terms of what needs to be done in order to address the opioid crisis, Quinones said community efforts will need to play a large roll and noted the crisis will not be solved overnight. Read a full interview with Quinones on The Bottom Line here.

Selling Kentucky- As Kentucky seeks to compete with surrounding states for talent and tourism, Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Terry Gill and Senior Vice President of Miles Partnership Jay Salyers discussed the state’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities with moderator Kevin Smith, Vice President of Kentucky Beam Bourbon Affairs at Beam Suntory.

selling kentucky panelSecretary Gill said Kentucky has population challenges with around 2 million fewer people in the state compared to surrounding states and added Kentucky must attract more talent and focus on branding and making the Commonwealth more competitive by “not letting others define who we are.”

Gill also stated Kentucky has many workforce challenges and applauded the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center’s efforts with Talent Pipeline Management and noted the state’s focus on apprenticeship programs and other investments to improve the workforce.

As for Kentucky’s strengths, Gill said the state has many advantages including proximity, a strong interstate system and others that need to be supported.

Salyers said Kentucky’s tourism has a lot to offer visitors and creates many memories and experiences which need to be marketed. He added that 1 in 10 jobs in Kentucky is in the tourism industry and said funding challenges for tourism needs to be addressed as it can help change the narrative, drive outside dollars into the state, and spur job creation.

Both Salyers and Gil agreed Kentucky must invest in tourism and economic development in order to become more competitive.

Immigration, Workforce, and Economic Growth- Immigration being a key contributor to Kentucky’s workforce and economic growth was the focus of a talk from New American Economy Executive Director Jeremy Robbins on Friday.

immigration BSAMKentucky has more than 150,000 immigrant residents and immigrant-owned firms employ more than 35,000 people.

“Immigration has been much more an opportunity than a threat. Over 40% of our Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants,” Robbins said.

Robbins said the United States is lagging behind on economic visa distribution and other countries are using America’s complications with immigration to attract people and allow a faster path to citizenship.

He also encouraged job creators to get involved in improving the state of immigration as he said everyone agrees the system is broken but there is not enough being done to fix it.

Key Issues Facing Kentucky’s Future- Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson detailed what has been accomplished in Kentucky and what is yet to be done.

dave BSAMAdkisson highlighted the success of the 2018 legislative session including pension and tax reform, workers’ compensation modernization, essential employment skills and other pro-business priorities.

Looking ahead, Adkisson noted that the Supreme Court will be deciding on whether the pension bill is constitutional, based on the process in which the bill was passed and the merits of the legislation.

Discussing the 2019 General Assembly, Adkisson said the business community will be advocating for “fixes” to the tax bill passed in 2018, infrastructure funding, legal liability reform, criminal justice reform, and net metering, among others.

A Conversation with Joe Craft- In the final presentation of the Summit, Kentucky Chamber Board Chair Joe Craft, CEO of Alliance Resources, was interviewed by Planters Bank CEO Elizabeth McCoy about his life and career in a segment highlighting influential leaders.

Joe Craft interviewCraft said his upbringing in eastern Kentucky was a defining part of his life as he saw the war on poverty first hand and family and neighbors helped shaped who he is.

The head of coal company Alliance Resources said the coal industry is being embraced in other countries as the global use of coal is the same as it was when his company was started in 1999, stating the coal issue is political, not economic.

He went on to say more efficient coal plants can and are being built around the world and coal remains an important part of the energy mix because it is a low-cost reliable source of power.

In terms of his philanthropy, Craft said he is focused on helping Kentucky through his efforts and raising those up who need help and ensure the Commonwealth is as strong as possible and expressed his desire to address poverty in the state.

Craft also discussed the new role he plays as the husband of the first female Ambassador to Canada as his wife Kelly Craft was appointed to the role by President Donald Trump. He said the position is a great experience for both of them and complimented her work in the role.

Video of the panels and presentations of the 2018 Business Summit will be available in the coming weeks.

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