With 264 private-sector new-location and expansion projects committed to investing over $11.2 billion and creating over 18,100 full-time jobs − 2021 was a record-shattering year for Team Kentucky. The September announcement of the BlueOvalSK Battery Park in Hardin County alone will create 5,000 jobs and cements the commonwealth as a major player in the white-hot electric vehicle market.
Important policies like Right-to-Work helped lay the foundation for the success we are seeing today. To keep up the momentum, economic developers from around the state are advocating for the next iteration of a pro-growth agenda focusing on the budget, tax policy, workforce development, and competitiveness.
Kentucky’s recent success means there are now fewer project-ready sites available, so we must quickly replenish the pipeline and prepare new ones. To set the stage for tomorrow’s jobs, we must build now and that means an increase in the budget allocation for site identification and product development programs which have in recent years delivered big bang for the buck.
The state continues to also yield strong returns from programs housed at the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) that help attract and retain jobs through performance-based incentives. A bigger allocation should be a part of any final budget package.
In the same vein, lawmakers can and should encourage more private investment in small businesses in rural areas and Opportunity Zones as well as counties hard hit by the tornadoes through smart legislation like Rep. Richard Heath & Rep. John Blanton’s House Bill 308, the Kentucky Rural Jobs Act of 2022. Small businesses in areas that need it most will have more working capital available to them to compete with thriving urban areas through strategic investments like technology, new machinery, and hiring and training new employees.
To keep our economy expanding, we must have a modern tax policy. That includes building on the success of the tax reform of 2018 with another bite at the apple. It is also a great time to consider additional revenue flexibility for local governments as well as updating the way in which the commonwealth collects revenue in the road fund. To remain competitive with neighboring states, we must allocate more dollars to transportation infrastructure.
A vibrant workforce that is a magnet for talent should be another priority. A bold tax credit for individual remote workers who relocate or stay in KY would help us benefit from major changes in the workplace.
In addition, to address our poor workforce participation rate, stable childcare is a must, and the General Assembly should pass legislation buttressing the KY Child Care Assistance Partnership so that support could be provided to working families by using state funds to match eligible contributions made by employers.
Finally, in the realm of competitiveness, during periodic review of KY’s incentive programs, careful attention should be paid to rooting out overly burdensome and redundant oversight that discourages investment and access to our relatively modest packages.
There has never been a better time to press our advantage. A bold 2022 agenda will help lay the groundwork for the next megaproject, a burgeoning small business sector, and the jobs of tomorrow.
Matt Tackett is president and CEO of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.