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Kentucky benefits from signature industries

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By Terry Mills

Kentucky is blessed to have not one but several “signature” industries, those areas of the economy where few, if any, states have a bigger impact.

Since last summer, we’ve gotten a much clearer picture of just how extensive some of these industries are.

The latest news about two of them, in fact, came last week. First, we learned that Kentucky churned out more than a million cars and trucks last year, the most our four assembly plants have built since 2007. Only three states produced more.

Kentucky actually builds more trucks than cars. Combined, they represent about 10 percent of all light-vehicle production in the country, including the best-selling truck for the last 31 years – the Ford F-Series truck – and the best-selling car for the last 11, the Toyota Camry.

According to the Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky has almost 450 auto-parts factories to go along with the assembly plants.  In the last two years alone, more than 130 have either expanded or located here, creating 7,200 new jobs while investing almost $1.8 billion.

A different type of horsepower was highlighted in the months-long study that came out last week on the equine industry.

It has been 35 years since the last comprehensive look was taken and, not surprisingly, a lot has changed since then.

The Kentucky Equine Survey found that there are 242,400 horses across the commonwealth, with thoroughbreds being the most popular breed.  Quarter horses, Tennessee walking horses and saddlebreds comprised most of the rest.  Their total value, when combined with all other horse-related property – from the 1.1 million acres where they run to the facilities built to train or promote them – adds up to $23.4 billion.

More details from the study are expected later this year, when county-level data and an analysis of the equine industry’s economic impact will be released.

That type of analysis was the focal point of a study done last year by the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee, which reported in August on coal’s economic reach in Kentucky.

The committee found that its total impact topped $10 billion in 2010, and that it is responsible for more than 42,000 jobs, 19,000 of which are directly involved in coal mining.  Although production is down from its 1990 high-water mark, coal employment remains strong in many ways.  Only two states produce more, for example, and between 2000 and 2010, seven of Kentucky’s top 10 coal-producing counties saw their percentage of coal jobs increase when measured as part of overall county employment.

The report showed that about two-thirds of the coal used to generate power in Kentucky comes from our own mines. We extracted 110 million tons overall in 2010, and it’s estimated that 1.4 billion recoverable tons remain.

Altogether, these studies will give the General Assembly food for thought when it returns next week to begin the main portion of this year’s legislative session.

For now, I’m happy to say that my committee assignments will continue to give me the opportunity to make sure our voice is heard on a variety of issues crucial to our legislative district.  I am proud to become the House chairman of the Capital Planning Advisory Board and vice chairman of the Agriculture & Small Business Committee.

I also serve on several other committees: Economic Development, Labor & Industry, Transportation and Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Safety.  In addition, I am on the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development, Tourism, Natural Resources & Environmental Protection as well as Program Review, which does several in-depth studies each year, and the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.  I also belong to the Tobacco Task Force and the Subcommittee on Rural Issues.

As we ready to begin our work, I hope you will let me know what you think about the issues affecting Kentucky.  If you would like to write, my address is Room 329A, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 1-800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.