Steven L. Beshear, Governor of Kentucky

June 05 2013
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As the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s chief executive and most passionate salesman, I appreciate the opportunity to come here to the Empire Club to make the case for stronger economic ties between Canada and the Bluegrass State.

When you think of Kentucky, you probably think immediately of Kentucky Fried Chicken … or the Kentucky Derby.

We’re also famous for Bluegrass music … for native sons like Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali … for the Mammoth Cave system (the biggest in the world) … for college basketball, because we’re No. 1 two years’ running … and for bourbon, because we make 95 percent of the world’s bourbon (and all the rest is counterfeit, by the way).

But when it comes to Kentucky’s economy, we’re much more than all that.

We’re one of the top producers of cars and light trucks in the United States.

In fact, Kentucky ranked 4th in light vehicle production in the U.S. in 2012, producing more than one million vehicles, including some of the best-selling cars and trucks in our country.

Kentucky also has strong manufacturing presences in food products, chemicals, machinery and fabricated metals, to name a few.

We boast a longstanding agricultural and agribusiness industry.

Historically dominated by tobacco, it has been become increasingly diversified, with additional focuses on agri-tourism and agri-energy initiatives.

We also have a growing high-tech industry, with clusters in bio-logistics and bio-sciences.

As a result of efforts to attract and cultivate innovative companies, we boast nearly 1,830 bioscience and health science companies with 104,000 people working in advanced research and development fields like nutri-genomics and therapeutics to treat cancer.

Kentucky also has a history of innovation and entrepreneurship.

We invented the first traffic light in 1923 … created the first industrial robot in 1954 … conducted the first human hand transplant in 1999 … and in 2011 developed the first algae biomass containing over 70 percent fat,  which may lead to a more economical process of producing biofuel from algae.

And this entrepreneurial spirit is spreading: In the 2011-2012 timeframe, Kentucky ranked 2nd among states for growth rate in number of new firms per million residents.

Above all, Kentucky has a growing reputation as a dynamic and business-friendly location for international companies.

Simply put, we welcome foreign investors and transplanted citizens with open arms: About 425 companies from 30 nations are now located in the Commonwealth, employing more than 80,000 people.

Nearly 35 percent of all new capital investment and almost 20 percent of the new jobs announced in Kentucky last year were a result of foreign-owned enterprises.

That wasn’t accidental.

Since I became governor in 2007, I have made it a priority to expand Kentucky’s presence in the global economy, both strengthening our position as a trading partner and attracting investment from beyond our nation’s borders.

To be successful in this increasingly sophisticated world, and to survive the valleys of its volatile up-and-down marketplace, it’s imperative that we look beyond our borders and build relationships – not just economic ones but also social and personal ties – on a global level.

This mission has taken me to Germany, France and England … to India on a number of occasions … to China and Taiwan … and repeatedly to Japan.

Each of those trips has brought new investment in Kentucky, as foreign-based businesses learn what great opportunities exist in the Bluegrass.

This is my first trip to Canada in an official capacity, and Kentucky’s first official trade and investment mission here – even though this country is Kentucky’s No. 1 trading partner.

In fact, Kentucky and Canada trade some $11 billion in goods each year.

And 33 percent of all Kentucky trade is conducted with Canada … which exceeds the collective total of our next five international trade destinations.

Furthermore, over half a million Canadians visit Kentucky each year, and more than 70,000 Kentuckians travel north.

And both Canadian and Kentucky companies have reaped the pay-off of investing across the border for over half a century.

The investment has gone both ways.

Just to give a few examples:

  • Back in 1953, a restaurateur named Colonel Harland Sanders opened a Kentucky Fried Chicken location in Calgary. Today, there are over 900 KFC outlets across Canada.
  • In 1960, a Kentucky chemical manufacturer and oil refinery named Ashland established a regional headquarters in Canada. Today, Ashland Canada has a network of facilities coast to coast with $125 million in sales.
  • And Alltech, a Lexington-based innovator in animal health and nutrition, came to Canada in 1988. Today, its Alexandria plant is one of the largest organic minerals facilities in the world.

Now, back in Kentucky, we’re home to 35 Canadian-owned businesses that employ over 6,000 people, including companies like Martinrea International … Magna Car Top Systems … Ferus Corp. … ABC Automotive Systems … and Westport Innovations.

  • In 2011, Martinrea International announced a $12 million investment in its facility in Shelbyville, Ky., to manufacture parts for the next generation Ford Escape.

Martinrea now employs 800 Kentuckians at its two plants in the Commonwealth.

  • And in 2012, Westport Innovations celebrated the grand opening of its $4.5 million facility in Louisville, which will install compressed natural gas fuel systems in Ford Super Duty trucks.

These investments demonstrate the value of our two-way relationship.

Now, our Canadian friends here today understand better than anyone why Kentucky companies are attracted to the Canadian marketplace.

Canada offers a low cost of doing business as a leader in low corporate tax rates, and is consistently ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the top countries in the world to do business.

But you may be less familiar with why Canadian companies and investors are looking toward the Bluegrass state.

Quite frankly, Kentucky has a lot of strengths:

  • Lower operating costs than many areas of the United States, including low taxes, and among the lowest utility rates.
  • Robust incentive programs aimed at both recruiting new companies and helping existing ones expand facilities, product lines and work forces.
  • A central location, within 600 miles of 2/3 of the U.S. population, and less than a day’s drive from some of Canada’s largest population centers.
  • Extensive highway, air, rail and waterway transportation systems, including about 60 public airports.
  • Two major air cargo hubs, UPS and DHL, giving companies a leg up on getting products, papers and packages into the global stream of commerce.

In fact, if you go out tonight here in Toronto and order a lobster at any restaurant, it likely spent last night in Louisville, Kentucky, at the UPS World Port.

  • And most of all, a vibrant, skilled workforce that is getting stronger all the time.

The Commonwealth is committed to developing a well-trained and efficient workforce capable of competing in the global economy – whether we’re talking about new graduates just starting their careers, or mid-career workers who are adding new skills and re-training.

Toward that end, we boast two major research universities, a range of regional four-year universities, an array of private institutions, and a burgeoning two-year community and technical college system … not to mention a workforce collaboration initiative that facilitated the training of 85,000 Kentuckians last year.

Now, as far as living in Kentucky, we boast an unusually rewarding quality of life, with beautiful landscapes … numerous opportunities for outdoor activities and adventures … numerous sports teams to cheer on … and many cultural attractions, such as museums, concert venues, plays and the world-renowned Bourbon Trail adventure.

This is a wonderful place to live, work, play, raise a family and, yes, make money.

Now, like I said, this is Kentucky’s first-ever trade and investment mission to Canada.

Our delegation includes representatives from over 50 Kentucky companies, business groups and economic development organizations.


We are here because Kentucky’s relationship with Canada is strong – but we want it to be stronger.


We want to work with you to expand the breadth and depth of our trade and investment ties, to improve the health of both of our economies and the quality of life of our peoples.

In closing, I want to thank our Canadian hosts for their hospitality and warmth, and the Empire Club and its president, Robin Sears, for hosting this luncheon.

I had the pleasure of hosting Canadian Consul General Roy Norton for a weeklong visit to the Bluegrass this past February.

We treated him and his staff to the best that Kentucky had to offer, and he and his colleagues have gone all out to return the favor.

We appreciate it.

And we look forward to seeing our ties to Canada and the Canadian economy grow in number and depth.