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Perspective: Kentucky’s Best Days Come into Sight

Skilled workforce, affordable housing will bring us more of the investment, jobs that lift our quality of life

By Mark Green

Big economic project wins combined with smart policy moves are giving Kentucky the opportunity to permanently upgrade its quality of life in the coming decade. Years of making the right moves are about to pay off.

State and local leaders are focused on staying on track but still have some challenges to handle, primarily in ensuring that a skilled workforce is available in adequate numbers. Housing is a concern, too, because market and financial forces today have builders crowded into the profitable luxury sector rather than meeting demand for affordable homes.

It will require innovation, but a growing economy and tax base will expand the options.

The state’s improving economic outlook brightened further in April when Envision AESC, one of the world’s top advanced vehicle battery makers, chose a 500-acre swath of Bowling Green’s Kentucky Transpark for a $2 billion plant. When it opens in 2027, there will be 2,000 new jobs that pay nicely in a modern industry whose runway extends as far as the eye can see.

Already announced last fall and in the works is a $5.8 billion electric-vehicle battery manufacturing park along I-65 in Hardin County that is the largest project in state history. This BlueOvalSK Battery Park is being built by a partnership of Ford Motor Co. and South Korean industrial conglomerate SK Industries and will have 5,000 jobs long term.

The governor likes to say the state’s economy is on fire. At the very least, Kentucky is sending up smoke signals that will attract further attention and projects.

As the vehicle manufacturing industry makes a once-in-a-lifetime pivot to a new power platform, Kentucky is locking in a position as a key producer of the essential high-efficiency batteries EVs will require. This it is where we want to be.

Landing these two “gigaplants” just outside Bowling Green and Elizabethtown will also bring dozens of supply chain providers who will create more jobs and millions—or even billions—in investments.

This kind of economic growth creates compound benefits: tax base growth, salaries that support family creation, home and vehicle buying, money in circulation to build existing business and entrepreneurship, resources for public education, private nonprofit activity and more.

This year’s General Assembly session produced a shrewd tax reform measure that improves Kentucky’s competitiveness with stepped annual income tax cuts in the coming decade. However, they only happen if General Fund revenue and the state’s rainy day fund are sufficient to cover existing needs. Rather than raise sales taxes, it eliminates many exemptions. This tax reform will grow our population as well as our business sector, household incomes and our collective, common wealth.

Education remains the vital ingredient in our collective success story. It’s easy to find fault with the education system; that’s so with any diverse system involving hundreds of thousands of human beings. Monitor educators, administration and students, and hold them accountable, but fund education generously. It’s an investment that pays off.

We can’t know all the impacts, innovations and technical evolutions that the shift to EVs will bring, but our state will benefit from it if we have a skilled, growing, educated population here at the logistics crossroad of the eastern United States, the world’s most important marketplace.

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