(These remarks were delivered by Kent Oyler, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. at GLI’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 25 in Louisville)
There is a reason we chose innovation as the theme for GLI’s 2017 Annual Meeting—we believe the status quo is unsustainable. It’s time for us to create a bigger vision for ourselves.
It is true that there is a lot to celebrate here in the Greater Louisville region. 2016 was a banner year. We opened new bridges, began rebuilding our downtown and added thousands of new jobs. It is also true that what got us here is not sufficient to win the economic battles of our future.
Today too few jobs are the high paying jobs of the future. Too few in our workforce have the skills of the future. And our public policy systems are not yet aligned with the economy of the future. We must choose to do even better if we are to win as an economically vibrant region.
And I believe innovation is the key to winning. Or as Steve Jobs said, “innovation is the only way to win.”
Innovation is the pursuit of new ideas, inventions, and methods. Experimentation. Risk. Reward. And yes sometimes failure. Innovation is the lifeblood of business evolution. And evolve we must to fly high enough to escape the gravity of the status quo.
Recently I read the bestseller, The Hillbilly Elegy. I know that many of you have this on your nightstand. It is the autobiography of a kid named JD from a coal mining town in Eastern Kentucky who overcame long odds and made it through Yale Law School. JD used his personal story to explain the limiting mindset that has kept so many of his Appalachian peers from participating in the American Dream.
Dying industries, drugs, poor education and low expectations all challenged JD and his family. Nothing was easy as an entire region’s opportunity faded away. It would have been easy to accept defeat. But with the encouragement of his colorful grandmother Mamaw JD chose in his mind to become a winner. And that choice saw him through to success, no matter the obstacles he faced.
That is what we must do. As our region’s business and civic leaders we must choose to take on a winning mindset. Maybe even get a little swagger. And when we choose to win—and by ‘we’ I mean every one of the 1.4 million people in our region. The choice is ours and the time is now.
So what does winning through innovation look like? What does it feel like? What does it mean?
Winning through innovation means attracting and growing the industries of the future. Many of our larger companies are thriving, especially in health care, distilling and advanced manufacturing. But we need more businesses and jobs in big-data, finance, software, robotics, research, and health tech.
To attract those companies and train that workforce we must be innovative in our public policy. When we are truly winning we will look more like the states around us that have already innovated their systems. Indiana and Tennessee have learned to use their public policy as a carrot, not a stick. They are reaping the rewards and so can we.
Earlier this month Kentucky made a historic leap forward when Gov. Bevin signed into law a package of pro-business legislation. We need to build on this early momentum with comprehensive tax, education, pension, and tort reform. This is the innovation that GLI is leading.
Winning means attracting and retaining the skilled people we need to fill the 30,000 open jobs in our region. The strength of our workforce is our currency for sustainable economic development and we need more skilled workers to win.
Building a talent pipeline will require innovation and experimentation. This is new territory for us. We will have to try new approaches like digitally crowdsourced talent recruitment, reinvented apprenticeship programs, free technical college, SummerWorks, and career academies in our high schools. And we will need to attract more skilled people born outside the United States. These are all areas where business people can engage and this is the innovation GLI is leading.
Winning through innovation means starting and growing more of our own. High potential tech startups like El Toro, Switcher Studios, and Edj Analytics are putting us on the map. We have great potential for entrepreneurship.
We are unique in that we have placed 5 companies so far in the globally competitive Endeavor business accelerator program. Our keynote speaker, John Schnatter, is an investor and mentor in Endeavor, and we can all follow his lead and mentor and support our local entrepreneurs. Our large companies can buy more locally and partner with our small companies to help them grow. Our successful entrepreneurs can reinvest more of the profits they’ve harvested into new companies, not just park their money in the bank.
And winning in entrepreneurship means celebrating those that tried and failed. Encouraging them to get back up, dust off and do it all over again. That’s how Austin, Nashville and the Silicon Valley are winning at entrepreneurship. This is also the innovation GLI is leading.
Today the Greater Louisville business community is doing great. We are on a roll! We have new infrastructure, an abundance of opportunity, and hungry entrepreneurs. Business is good. And that makes this the time to act. To make tough choices. To invest. To grow. To innovate and improve like never before.
I sincerely appreciate you joining us as we celebrate success and innovation. I appreciate your leadership in the business community. I appreciate your investment in GLI’s mission of accelerating our regional economy.
Know that you are making a difference. GLI is making a difference. Together we will not stagnate from a want of leadership, vision or resolve. We have the wind at our back, we will innovate and we will win.
This is our town. This is our time. And this is what GLI does.