When businesses look for new locations to expand or re-locate, they consider such obvious things as infrastructure, government incentives, taxes and the cost to build.
Above all else, though, they look at the quality of the local workforce, according to annual surveys done by Site Selection magazine, a national trade publication that tracks economic development.
Fortunately, Kentucky knows this area well, having been ranked among the leading states for years in workforce development. The results are showing just how beneficial this investment has been, given that we are also among the top states in attracting large-scale industrial projects that invest at least $1 million, create 50 or more jobs or add at least 20,000 square feet of floor space.
Kentucky averaged nearly one of these projects a day in 2012, a rate that Site Selection says only nine other states beat. Our success is not a short-term blip, either; in fact, we have been among the top 15 states in this category for the last five years.
Beyond workforce development, there are other factors in our favor, such as having industrial electricity costs that are a fifth below the national average, thanks to coal; being centrally located; and, as a CNBC study found, having the lowest overall cost of doing business in the country.
My goal as House Speaker is to ensure that all parts of the state enjoy in this prosperity. With that in mind, I was proud to join with Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers on Monday to announce a new effort that will call on those of us living and working in Eastern Kentucky to offer ideas on how we can tackle the challenges facing us. This summit – which will be held on Monday, Dec. 9, at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville – will be known as “Soar,” since it stands for Shaping Our Appalachian Region. I’ll provide more information as we get closer to the event, and hope that many are able to take part.
One of the ideas that will almost certainly be discussed will be the state’s renewed focus on education, an area where we are seeing lasting success. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education says the number of workers who have a bachelor’s degree has increased 80 percent over the last two decades, while those with a high school diploma or less has declined by a tenth.
During last year’s and this year’s legislative sessions, meanwhile, the General Assembly set the stage for a major overhaul of the career and technical education programs that are available to our older students.
In the 2011-12 school year, more than 150,000 students – about three-fourths of our public high school population – took at least one of these courses, which run from agri-science and business administration to machine-tool technology and the health sciences.
About a fifth of these students take three or more of these types of classes, and in 2009-10, more than 90 percent of this group either went on to college, joined the military or started their career right after graduating. A longer comparison shows just how far we have come, given that, in 2003, a fifth of community and technical education students were not employed or attending school after graduation.
With more than 70 campuses spread across the state, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) is playing a vital role in preparing tomorrow’s workforce. The most recent figures show that more than a fourth of all jobs require at least postsecondary vocational training, and jobs needing an associate’s degree were projected in 2010 to grow by 19 percent by 2018. Our area has been fortunate to have the Big Sandy Community and Technical College and, before that, other institutions of higher learning that have been around for decades. My goal is to build on these gains by making it easier for Eastern Kentuckians to pursue a four-year degree. I’m convinced this has to be part of the mix.
Kentucky has seen a lot of success when considering the gains our employees have made over the last dozen years, but this is an area where there are no awards for complacency. We can’t risk letting other states – and even other competing countries – pass us by. We need to continue building on these gains.