One of my proudest moments as a legislative leader came in the 1980’s, when the General Assembly approved a significant incentive package to bring Toyota to the Commonwealth. It had its share of controversy at the time, but now, more than a quarter-century later, it is abundantly clear that this was one of the best deals Kentucky has ever made.
Since then, we have seen our presence in the automotive industry grow significantly, and last week, a six-month study unveiled by Gov. Beshear underscored just how much has happened since 1990.
According to the report, Kentucky produces more than 3,500 vehicles a day on average at Toyota and our three other assembly plants, or about 1.3 million a year. That’s the third-best in the nation, trailing only Michigan and Ohio. About one in every 18 jobs in the state is tied in some way to the auto industry or the economic impact it provides.
To me, it’s clear that Kentucky has benefited more than any other state in the industry’s shift to the South over the last quarter-century.
Our auto-parts factories play a dominant role as well in the industry. There are more than 460 across the state, with two-thirds of our 120 counties having at least one, including Floyd and Pike.
The good news is that the good news keeps on coming; the industry has announced more than 60 expansion or re-location projects every year for the past five years. If they meet their projections, these projects will account for $4.5 billion in investment and 20,000 new jobs. All but 10 percent of this investment comes from companies expanding their presence here, a strong indication that they are pleased with what we have to offer.
There are several key reasons for our success. Our workforce and job-training programs are vitally important, and there is no doubt that geography helps as well. No other state is closer to the 29 auto assembly plants in our region.
Inexpensive electricity costs made possible by our coal also plays in our favor, with only three states having a lower industrial rate than Kentucky.
Being a dominant force in the aluminum industry – we are responsible for a fourth of the country’s primary production – means the future holds even more promise as auto manufacturers look for ways to safely reduce vehicle weight to increase fuel efficiency.
Ford recently unveiled the country’s first mass-produced aluminum-body truck, but by 2025, industry experts believe that three out of four trucks and one in five SUVs will be made this way. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested here to meet that increased demand for aluminum.
On a more personal transportation-related matter, I am really pleased with the wide support I’ve seen as a result of my proposal last week to connect our community and Beckley, W. Va., with an interstate-quality highway. There is no doubt that this is needed, and it would open up our region to the east in a way no other project could. I have been in contact with other state and federal leaders here and in West Virginia and will do all I can to make this happen. I will of course keep you updated on this progress.
For now, if you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. My email is [email protected], and you can leave a message by calling 800-372-7181.