Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear thanked the Kentucky Chamber for holding their signature Chamber Day event virtually to keep people safe and emphasized the great work of Kentucky’s business community in putting the health and safety of Kentuckians above all else throughout the pandemic.
The governor said while we have endured anything but normalcy in the last 11 months, the state is seeing a light at end of tunnel, as we are distributing vaccine at impressive rate.
“We are on the cusp of new economic era. Businesses and other states see it and they are planning and investing knowing a new economy is in front of us. We here in Kentucky have to do the same to be competitive,” Beshear said. “Failure to act now, failure to make investments, failure to see the future and meet it would be fumbling this once-in-a-generation opportunity to leap forward ahead of other states and lead in this post-COVID economy.”
To do that, he said, Kentucky lawmakers must make “bold investments” in areas like infrastructure and others. He pointed to his budget proposal which proposes investments with one-time money in many areas which he says will help the state move forward.
Beshear said he is committed to using funds to pay back part of a large federal loan the state has taken out replenish the state’s depleted unemployment insurance trust fund.
Senate President Robert Stivers said the Senate is focused on areas to help the business community including unemployment, liability protections, and other issues to move the state forward.
“We are having good dialogue. We are able and ready to work with the governor when he wants to engage with us what we think will be beneficial to the business community,” Stivers said.
House Speaker David Osborne said throughout this pandemic, the Kentucky Chamber has found ways to meet the needs of businesses, and since the first days of the pandemic, Kentucky businesses have been part of the solution.
Osborne emphasized how Kentucky is struggling from the pandemic, pointing to the 90,000 fewer jobs from last year and pointed to how the state has dropped four places in the best and worst places to do business. He said they will be focused on the budget and other issues to help rebuild.
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey also placed a spotlight on the budget, pointing to goals of investing in education, broadband, and small businesses.
“Democrats and Republicans have worked together. Our Commonwealth is not perfect. Flaws are challenges. Change is opportunity. We are who we choose to be. My hope is that we choose to believe our futures are bound together,” McGarvey said.
House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins said thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, this will be the first and last virtual Chamber Day and emphasized the toll the virus has taken on the state. She noted the adverse impact on women and the state must find ways for women to come back to the workforce.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts noted the way businesses stepped up to support the Commonwealth throughout the pandemic while they were also struggling and pointed to recent successes of member businesses including Pfizer and UPS playing a key role in vaccine production and distribution.
But the pandemic has also presented critical issues, Watts said, emphasizing that the state’s record unemployment and the costs associated will now force a tax increase on businesses and, between February and October, Kentucky saw more than 177,000 people leave the workforce. She said the Chamber’s agenda in the 2021 session is focused solely on recovery from the pandemic to help businesses and the state get back on track.
“A lot has changed over the last year, but many lessons were learned. The continued innovation, flexibility, and pure grit of our businesses will be essential as we work to recover. But there are no guarantees. We must seize every opportunity to get our Commonwealth back on the right track,” Watts said.
Kentucky Chamber Board Chair Winston Griffin started his remarks by stating one year ago the Chamber thought the most challenging hurdles the organization faced in 2020 was an internal leadership transition and building a relationship with a newly-elected governor.
“No one could have been prepared for what 2020 had in store. With a global health pandemic, economic turmoil, and record-breaking unemployment numbers, the world seemed to turn upside down. However, these events spurred the Chamber to use an innovative, outside-the-box approach to re-think its vision and provide more value than ever for Kentucky’s business community,” Griffin said.
Griffin, the CEO and chairman of Laurel Grocery Company, pointed to the Kentucky Chamber’s work to help businesses across the state in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, legislative victories, efforts change the state’s approach to addiction and corrections, and the Chamber being recognized as one of the top three state chambers in the country in 2020.