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A Pep Rally for Boldness

By wmadministrator

We’ve all been to dull policy meetings where nobody seems to make a point and nothing gets done. That’s why meetings like Idea Kentucky are so different … and so important. Held the day before the official start of the sixth IdeaFestival in Louisville, this one-day conference was all about shaking things up. And it was filled with a sold-out crowd of state policymakers, business leaders, educators, school kids, interested members of the public and yes, even politicians – eager to help make things happen. As one of the speakers, Gov. Steve Beshear said this meeting was a “pep rally for boldness.”

A hard dose of reality
The meeting began by showing attendees just how far behind Kentucky really is. We already knew we lead a long list of ills, including obesity, smoking, toothlessness, depression, poor health among the elderly, low educational attainment and more. After gargantuan public efforts and strict testing, the state has managed to lift itself out of the bottom third in educational performance (from 43rd nationally in 1992 to 34th in 2002). And most are aware Kentucky lags its neighbor states in economic development as well as income level. Commonwealth incomes and economic growth have not kept pace with the rest of the country the past 20 years, noted Kris Kimmel of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. and Michael Childress of the Kentucky Long Term Research Center. At the current incremental rate of growth, the state will catch up to the national average household income in 157 years. Small improvements will only allow us to keep running in place.

Childress pointed out Kentucky’s astonishing laziness in addressing the issue of energy efficiency. The state, he noted, burns approximately 12,000 BTUs of energy for every dollar of its gross economic product. The rest of the nation averages 6,000 BTUs for dollar of gross product. Regarding renewable energy resources, he said, Kentucky is doing even worse today than in 1960 when we obtained 6 percent of our energy from renewable sources versus only 3 percent today. Could it be that our easy access to coal has kept other options off the table?

Gov. Beshear: “Fear of change could be fatal.”
“Kentucky can’t keep doing things the way it used to,” Beshear said, because “other states are taking a lot more than just baby steps.”

He laid out broad plans and bold appeals to stir the state from its slumber. Kentucky must make hard choices about where to put its money, given the impact of the economy on state revenues. That will certainly mean ferreting out waste in our current budget.

“While I believe in efficiency, at some point, cost cutting becomes a retreat,” Beshear said. “We must invest in our state, too, especially in higher education.”

He advocated aggressively raising the cigarette tax to help pay for new initiatives.

Beshear called on Kentucky to increase its investment in education and children’s health, from improving access to health care, to creating more early childhood development opportunities, to improving the affordability of higher education, to doubling college graduate numbers by 2020. College graduates are needed to grow the businesses already in the state, he said, and will be crucial to helping Kentucky compete globally.

Agriculture, a traditional state industry, may in fact be a “new economy” opportunity, Beshear said. “The world needs food, and it needs new, more-efficient food production techniques. We have some of the nation’s most fertile farmland right here, and we can be a leader in this area.”

Of different “growth industries” coming up in the new economy, Beshear said Kentucky’s greatest potential may come in alternative-fuel technologies, everything from switchgrass ethanol production, to wind and hydroelectric power, to clean coal.

“Those who say we should get out of coal altogether aren’t being practical,” Beshear said. “This country still gets 50 percent of its energy from coal, and we have some of the best coal in the country in Kentucky. We have an obligation to reduce emissions. But make no mistake, we have all the natural resources to be a leader in clean coal and every other kind of alternative and renewable energy. Those are technologies we can help export around the world.”

He pointed to current successes such as the Kentucky New Energy Venture Fund, which has offered state incentives and grants to seven companies developing new energy technologies in Kentucky. He called on the private sector to offer matching grants in the biotechnology, nanotechnology and cyber technology arenas. While the state’s innovation centers have helped created 2,700 new technology jobs at 450 companies this year, and Bucks for Brains has continued to drive innovation at our universities, Beshear said, “We still need critical mass, and we’re not there yet.”

Off our pedestal
The other 49 states are the least of Kentucky’s worries, according to space entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jeffrey Manber. The United States’ loss of global dominance is a bigger problem.

Manber offered this array of distressing facts:
• Last year, India graduated 200,000 engineers. The United States a paltry 75,000.

• India graduates 2 million collegians a year from its 250 universities, 1,500 research institutions and more than 10,000 higher education institutes.

• In the United States, Indian immigrants are 38 percent of all doctors and 12 percent of all scientists.

• In 2004, the University of California at Berkley produced the largest number of undergraduates who went on to receive Ph.Ds in the United States. In 2006, universities in Peking and Seoul took Berkley’s place as our Ph.D. incubation centers.

Many of those freshly minted U.S.-issued Ph.Ds are now taking their talent back to their home countries, Manber said. And what has happened to our education system that more of our students aren’t pursuing advanced degrees?
We are now in a global war for talent, Manber said. We’re not graduating enough real talent to meet our needs. And with fewer people from other countries willing to come here in favor of growing opportunities at home, the U.S. brain drain will become very real. So will the economic threat.

Where do we go from here?
Having successfully started a conversation about Kentucky’s issues, Kimmel is now working to develop a group that helps follow up, and create new proposals for Kentucky’s future.

“We have no idea where that’s going yet, but we’re taking names of people who are interested in helping, and taking ideas on how to proceed,” he said.
The most immediate step forward will happen at the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center’s 15th annual conference titled “Visioning Kentucky’s Future,” scheduled for Nov. 20, at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington. Breakout sessions will include aging, energy and environment, economy, education, fiscal challenges, health care, the middle-class squeeze and transportation.

If you’re interested in helping move the future of the state forward, contact the staff at www.IdeaKY.com, or participate in the business discussion at imediaky.com With challenges this big, no idea is too small.

What’s the Big Idea?

Framing challenges for the state was only half the action at the Idea Kentucky Festival. The speakers spent half the day challenging attendees to step up the microphone with their ideas on addressing Kentucky’s biggest issues. Here’s a sampling of thoughts offered from the floor:

Choose some industries where Kentucky can excel, and put a massive public/private effort into getting out front. Bordeaux, France, for instance, broke out of its winemaking mold by investing in becoming a huge center for space research.
Invest in education, and teach children to speak other languages.
Pay teachers 30-40 percent more, eliminate tenure and make school year round.
Promote registered accreditation programs so kids who go into trades can get real skills they can market, and the quality of our labor will rise.
Create a Web site where educators can post ideas they would like to have funded by grants – a match.com-type site for educational philanthropy, if you will.
Teach kids life skills and study skills in school.
Get a high, really high, cigarette tax, and make Kentucky a non-smoking state.
Standardize grading scales in the state.
Put together plans that will help make it financially and physically easier for parents to go back to college and manage their home responsibilities. Tax credits for school costs and a greater online degree program would help.
Invest in early education for pre-K kids.
Work hard on Kentucky’s branding and marketing of itself, so it goes far beyond the usual horses and bourbon to make the state known for its innovation, too.We’ve all been to dull policy meetings where nobody seems to make a point and nothing gets done. That’s why meetings like Idea Kentucky are so different … and so important. Held the day before the official start of the sixth IdeaFestival in Louisville, this one-day conference was all about shaking things up. And it was filled with a sold-out crowd of state policymakers, business leaders, educators, school kids, interested members of the public and yes, even politicians – eager to help make things happen. As one of the speakers, Gov. Steve Beshear said this meeting was a “pep rally for boldness.”

A hard dose of reality
The meeting began by showing attendees just how far behind Kentucky really is. We already knew we lead a long list of ills, including obesity, smoking, toothlessness, depression, poor health among the elderly, low educational attainment and more. After gargantuan public efforts and strict testing, the state has managed to lift itself out of the bottom third in educational performance (from 43rd nationally in 1992 to 34th in 2002). And most are aware Kentucky lags its neighbor states in economic development as well as income level. Commonwealth incomes and economic growth have not kept pace with the rest of the country the past 20 years, noted Kris Kimmel of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. and Michael Childress of the Kentucky Long Term Research Center. At the current incremental rate of growth, the state will catch up to the national average household income in 157 years. Small improvements will only allow us to keep running in place.

Childress pointed out Kentucky’s astonishing laziness in addressing the issue of energy efficiency. The state, he noted, burns approximately 12,000 BTUs of energy for every dollar of its gross economic product. The rest of the nation averages 6,000 BTUs for dollar of gross product. Regarding renewable energy resources, he said, Kentucky is doing even worse today than in 1960 when we obtained 6 percent of our energy from renewable sources versus only 3 percent today. Could it be that our easy access to coal has kept other options off the table?

Gov. Beshear: “Fear of change could be fatal.”
“Kentucky can’t keep doing things the way it used to,” Beshear said, because “other states are taking a lot more than just baby steps.”

He laid out broad plans and bold appeals to stir the state from its slumber. Kentucky must make hard choices about where to put its money, given the impact of the economy on state revenues. That will certainly mean ferreting out waste in our current budget.

“While I believe in efficiency, at some point, cost cutting becomes a retreat,” Beshear said. “We must invest in our state, too, especially in higher education.”

He advocated aggressively raising the cigarette tax to help pay for new initiatives.

Beshear called on Kentucky to increase its investment in education and children’s health, from improving access to health care, to creating more early childhood development opportunities, to improving the affordability of higher education, to doubling college graduate numbers by 2020. College graduates are needed to grow the businesses already in the state, he said, and will be crucial to helping Kentucky compete globally.

Agriculture, a traditional state industry, may in fact be a “new economy” opportunity, Beshear said. “The world needs food, and it needs new, more-efficient food production techniques. We have some of the nation’s most fertile farmland right here, and we can be a leader in this area.”

Of different “growth industries” coming up in the new economy, Beshear said Kentucky’s greatest potential may come in alternative-fuel technologies, everything from switchgrass ethanol production, to wind and hydroelectric power, to clean coal.

“Those who say we should get out of coal altogether aren’t being practical,” Beshear said. “This country still gets 50 percent of its energy from coal, and we have some of the best coal in the country in Kentucky. We have an obligation to reduce emissions. But make no mistake, we have all the natural resources to be a leader in clean coal and every other kind of alternative and renewable energy. Those are technologies we can help export around the world.”

He pointed to current successes such as the Kentucky New Energy Venture Fund, which has offered state incentives and grants to seven companies developing new energy technologies in Kentucky. He called on the private sector to offer matching grants in the biotechnology, nanotechnology and cyber technology arenas. While the state’s innovation centers have helped created 2,700 new technology jobs at 450 companies this year, and Bucks for Brains has continued to drive innovation at our universities, Beshear said, “We still need critical mass, and we’re not there yet.”

Off our pedestal
The other 49 states are the least of Kentucky’s worries, according to space entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jeffrey Manber. The United States’ loss of global dominance is a bigger problem.

Manber offered this array of distressing facts:
• Last year, India graduated 200,000 engineers. The United States a paltry 75,000.

• India graduates 2 million collegians a year from its 250 universities, 1,500 research institutions and more than 10,000 higher education institutes.

• In the United States, Indian immigrants are 38 percent of all doctors and 12 percent of all scientists.

• In 2004, the University of California at Berkley produced the largest number of undergraduates who went on to receive Ph.Ds in the United States. In 2006, universities in Peking and Seoul took Berkley’s place as our Ph.D. incubation centers.

Many of those freshly minted U.S.-issued Ph.Ds are now taking their talent back to their home countries, Manber said. And what has happened to our education system that more of our students aren’t pursuing advanced degrees?
We are now in a global war for talent, Manber said. We’re not graduating enough real talent to meet our needs. And with fewer people from other countries willing to come here in favor of growing opportunities at home, the U.S. brain drain will become very real. So will the economic threat.

Where do we go from here?
Having successfully started a conversation about Kentucky’s issues, Kimmel is now working to develop a group that helps follow up, and create new proposals for Kentucky’s future.

“We have no idea where that’s going yet, but we’re taking names of people who are interested in helping, and taking ideas on how to proceed,” he said.
The most immediate step forward will happen at the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center’s 15th annual conference titled “Visioning Kentucky’s Future,” scheduled for Nov. 20, at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington. Breakout sessions will include aging, energy and environment, economy, education, fiscal challenges, health care, the middle-class squeeze and transportation.

If you’re interested in helping move the future of the state forward, contact the staff at www.IdeaKY.com, or participate in the business discussion at imediaky.com With challenges this big, no idea is too small.

What’s the Big Idea?

Framing challenges for the state was only half the action at the Idea Kentucky Festival. The speakers spent half the day challenging attendees to step up the microphone with their ideas on addressing Kentucky’s biggest issues. Here’s a sampling of thoughts offered from the floor:

Choose some industries where Kentucky can excel, and put a massive public/private effort into getting out front. Bordeaux, France, for instance, broke out of its winemaking mold by investing in becoming a huge center for space research.
Invest in education, and teach children to speak other languages.
Pay teachers 30-40 percent more, eliminate tenure and make school year round.
Promote registered accreditation programs so kids who go into trades can get real skills they can market, and the quality of our labor will rise.
Create a Web site where educators can post ideas they would like to have funded by grants – a match.com-type site for educational philanthropy, if you will.
Teach kids life skills and study skills in school.
Get a high, really high, cigarette tax, and make Kentucky a non-smoking state.
Standardize grading scales in the state.
Put together plans that will help make it financially and physically easier for parents to go back to college and manage their home responsibilities. Tax credits for school costs and a greater online degree program would help.
Invest in early education for pre-K kids.
Work hard on Kentucky’s branding and marketing of itself, so it goes far beyond the usual horses and bourbon to make the state known for its innovation, too.

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