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Commentary on life in Kentucky

By wmadministrator

Big Lex: The Brand
Bluegrass region tourism and hospitality officials are exploring a powerful branding idea they think holds the potential to become a marketing icon of national and even international scope.

Pentagram Design Firm came up with a campaign based on a painting by famous equine artist Edward Troy of the horse Lexington (left), a racing and bloodstock champion who is given much of the credit for first establishing Central Kentucky as a center for world-class Thoroughbred breeding. The striking visual twist is that Lexington is rendered in a bright blue.

Officials at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Bluegrass Hospitality Association like the concept and have begun efforts to send Big Lex – the blue horse logo – out into the world. The original painting’s owners have given the CVB unlimited use
of the image.

The result is striking and original and melds the notions of the Bluegrass region and Lexington the city as the Horse Capital of the World. Big Lex (see logo at right) could well become for Lexington what the Statue of Liberty and the Big Apple logo are for New York City.

Originally named Darley, the horse Lexington won six of his seven starts. He retired to stud in 1855 because he was going blind and stood for 20 years at Nantura and Woodburn farms near Midway. He was the nation’s leading sire for a record 16 years, fathering 600 foals, of which more than 200 became winners. His descendants include Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Economic Outlook
We held onto one more response from our annual solicitation of Kentucky business leaders’ perspective on the commonwealth’s business climate. Here’s the view from a top state accounting firm office:

“The business climate in Kentucky seems to mirror what is happening across the globe. The current global financial crisis, spurred originally by the housing crisis in the United States, has affected all business endeavors and sectors of the Kentucky economy. Resulting tight credit, manufacturing cutbacks, job losses and an overall lack of confidence in the marketplace have placed all business managers into a hunker-down mentality.

Those looking for quick fixes from the recent bailout package passed by Congress will be sorely disappointed, as the recovery from this recession will be prolonged. The economy will not rebound until fundamental changes in lending practices and institutional risk-management standards are reinstated to incorporate more prudent and deliberate policies. It is apparent that financial institutions, as evidenced by tightening credit markets, have been jolted by the events that have unfolded over the past 18 months, and it will take just as long for these financial institutions to get their houses in order. With age-tested conservative standards in place, a normalized lending environment will ensue and a sustainable business environment will return.”

There’s much to like about new University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. He has a 17-year record of winning games and improving the college programs he heads. His dribble-drive offense can light up scoreboards in the manner long-time Kentucky fans fondly recall from championship seasons.

Calipari understands and appreciates Kentuckians’ unbridled spirit for basketball – in fact, it’s an integral part of how UK managed to lure him from Memphis, where he and his family had spent nine happy, successful years. He handles the spotlight comfortably and eloquently, and has a history of deep community involvement.

Pure fans see Calipari as the man who can return UK basketball to heights it hasn’t seen in several years. Not only are his recent win-loss and recruiting records the best in the business, he thinks it’s important that the players are having fun.

But what also recommends the new coach highly to us is his record of boosting education – yes, his players graduate. Calipari lifted the Memphis team’s senior graduation rate from zero when he arrived to 85 percent. At his introductory news conference Apr. 1, he said he’d already told Kentucky players that morning they’d need to find another team if they didn’t plan on making the grade in the classroom.“I think it’s important,” he said emphatically.

The need to raise commonwealth education levels is a recurring theme in this magazine. If Calipari champions education to Kentuckians as we expect, his impact on the commonwealth could resonate well beyond the sporting realm and make his highest-in-the-nation salary a bargain.
Welcome to Kentucky, coach!

AIG Bonus Tax
U.S. House of Representatives legislation to recoup $155 million in bonuses paid to AIG employees (and bonuses to employees of other bailout companies) is a bad idea because it is a retroactive, precedent-setting and punitive use of the government’s power to levy income tax. The legislation is not constitutionally sound. Thanks to efforts by conservatives in the U.S. Senate, hopefully, this tax bill will not be enacted.

Kentucky Economic Development Legislation
Kentucky House of Representative rules were strictly adhered to and requests from the governor and Senate to take action on important legislation were ignored. Some of the pending legislation included a change in state law allowing $45 million in additional benefits from the federal government for unemployed Kentuckians, expanded economic development benefits for Kentucky companies, tax credits so NASCAR will bring Sprint?Cup races to Kentucky Speedway, and creation of a financing authority that would accelerate development of Louisville’s new bridges over the Ohio River to Indiana.
Perhaps Kentucky’s Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo decided not to allow action on last-minute legislative items in order to have more issues on the bargaining table if Gov. Beshear calls a special session regarding the state’s declining revenue trends. A special session might be a good time to re-evaluate video lottery terminals at racetracks legislation and package it with other economic development incentives for Kentucky.

Louisville’s uniform labor standards
A proposed Metro Louisville ordinance would require uniform labor standards. Contractors bidding on city projects receiving more than $250,000 in metro government funds would have to pay prevailing wages, meet goals for minority- and women-owned businesses, provide access to a health plan for workers, and meet other guidelines. A number of the ordinance’s opponents – including some members of the Metro Council – are concerned about the higher costs of construction for Metro Louisville-funded projects and the negative impact of the legislation on free market competitive bidding.

Legislative Notebook
Tenure and post-retirement health benefits are nixed by KCTCS Regents
KCTCS announced plans to eliminate tenure and retirement health insurance benefits for employees hired after July 1, 2009. Although the Kentucky House voted in favor of a non-binding resolution supporting tenure, KCTCS must have maximum flexibility in updating its curriculum in order to adapt to rapid changes in the economy and the educational needs of its students.

Tenure makes change difficult and also increases the KCTCS’s operating costs.
KCTCS must be able to quickly and cost-effectively adapt its educational offerings to the needs of its students, while at the same time, keep tuition costs affordable.

KCTCS also recently announced a 50 percent tuition scholarship for unemployed workers for up to six credit hours of training in a new vocation at any KCTCS college.

Baby Shark Ray Display
Already a leader in the study of rare shark rays, Newport Aquarium now is the world’s first to display a shark ray pup. From Penghu Island off the coast of Taiwan, 25-pound Sunshine, less than a year old, is featured in the Coral Reef display, a 60,000-gallon “tunnel” exhibit visitors can walk through surrounded by aquatic life. Visit newportaquarium.com.

Tracy Farmer Called It!
Kentucky car dealership owner Tracy Farmer made a prediction when we talked to him for The Lane Report’s February cover story on the auto manufacturing industry. Farmer, who owns Oxmoor Hyundai, Oxmoor Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, Oxmoor Mazda and Oxmoor Toyota, said other carmakers would have to follow the lead of Hyundai, which had introduced a successful job-loss protection program for buyers.

As a result, Hyundai’s sales are up this year in the United States while all others have seen precipitous declines.

On March 31, Ford and General Motors each announced they would provide financial protection to buyers who lose their jobs. The programs ease the worries of prospective buyers who have held off making a vehicle purchase out of fears about the stability of their jobs.