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Perspective | Election debate is an opportunity

Progress requires focus, bold action to achieve goals
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson

Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was mindful of this advice from a Kentuckian who shaped the future of our nation as it crafted a vision for a more prosperous state: “4 Pillars 4 Prosperity: Making Kentucky More Competitive.”

We want to generate a serious discussion among gubernatorial candidates, policy leaders and engaged citizens about the four pillars that frame the vision and reflect the goals we must achieve to ensure progress:

A Healthy, Educated and Skilled Workforce. We must create a globally competitive talent-development system that produces a healthy, educated and skilled workforce, benchmarked against the best education and workforce preparation systems in the world.

Quality, Knowledge-Based Jobs. We must enhance Kentucky’s competitive business environment and implement economic development initiatives that recognize the potential of Kentucky’s distinct regions and industry sectors while encouraging knowledge-based entrepreneurship and innovation.

21st Century Infrastructure. We must create and maintain a modern infrastructure to capitalize on the state’s strategic advantages, including low-cost energy and central location.

Effective and Efficient Government. We must create and sustain an effective and efficient system of state and local governments that are financially stable, invest in education to improve prospects for the future and, together, create a competitive environment for economic growth.

With the 2019 race for governor underway, we have a great opportunity to communicate to the candidates and the state as a whole where the business community stands on key issues. It’s also the right time to encourage candidates and policy leaders to create and communicate to voters a policy agenda that will ensure progress.

Kentucky’s business community is optimistic about the state’s future, as a poll conducted for the 4 Pillars project clearly reflected. When the chamber issued its initial 4 Pillars report in 2015, 51 percent of business leaders said Kentucky was on the wrong track while 49 percent chose the “right track” response.

In 2018, the same question found 63 percent of responses concluding Kentucky was on the right track while 37 percent chose the “wrong track” response.

There also have been developments since the first 4 Pillars was published that alter the landscape for efforts to make Kentucky more prosperous. Recovery from the recession has gained strength, although it remains mixed in different regions of the state. Growth-friendly legislation such as right-to-work has been enacted to spur job creation. The unemployment rate is declining.

These are important and positive changes, but significant concerns persist among business leaders about the quality of the workforce and the need for change at all levels of the education system to better prepare students to become successful, productive and responsible citizens.

The state also faces the fiscal demands of pension obligations, Medicaid costs and increasing demands of the corrections system – all of which continue to drain funding away from investments in education. As we strive for progress in a state with limited public resources, it is becoming more apparent that additional resources from economic growth and other sources will be necessary for Kentucky to achieve its goals.

Clearly, there is work to be done by both public- and private-sector leaders to address these challenges. The Kentucky Chamber hopes that “4 Pillars 4 Prosperity” will stir the dialogue and shape the debate of the gubernatorial campaign as well as frame the policy agenda of state leaders in the next several years. It is our plan to monitor and report on the issues and statements prepared by gubernatorial candidates in order to raise Kentuckians’ awareness of the candidates’ positions.

We do this in support of the goal we all share: to build a stronger Kentucky that will provide a prosperous, high quality of life for all of its citizens. These are times of rapid change and great opportunity. Kentucky must be bold in addressing our weaknesses and building on our strengths to improve our competitive position and ensure success.

We invite you to join the conversation. “4 Pillars for Prosperity: Making Kentucky More Competitive” is available at kychamber.com.