Kentucky means business – how manufacturing drives the Commonwealth forward

By Walter Parker, Building Kentucky

Kentucky is in one of its most economically prosperous eras ever, thanks in large part to the state’s broad and interconnected web of manufacturers who celebrate, create and invest in the Commonwealth. The Bluegrass state’s reputation for innovation and its business-welcoming environment have attracted dozens of industries to build and grow here. From aluminum soda cans to the refrigerators that store them, Kentucky manufacturers make the global goods that make life better.

But you don’t just have to take our word for it.

Let’s start with automotive success – Did you know Kentucky is the nation’s top producer of cars, light trucks and SUVs per capita?

More than 5.7 million vehicles were made in Kentucky over the last five years including Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks, General Motors’ Corvettes, Ford Escape SUVs, Toyota Camry sedans and Lexus ES300h hybrid vehicles. Ford operates two plants in Louisville, Toyota’s largest production facility is in Georgetown and General Motors’ Corvette manufacturing plant is located in Bowling Green.

The Commonwealth is home to more than just vehicle manufacturing— there are more than 550 automotive-related companies that call Kentucky home and employ over 103,000 residents. In 2019, Kentucky’s automotive-related exports totaled $4.8 billion.

Like a balanced diet, the Commonwealth has a diverse and thriving industrial economy. Kentucky’s food and beverage industries employ over 57,000 people and business is growing. Since 2017, more than 300 food and beverage projects have been announced in Kentucky totaling over $8.1 billion in investment and adding over 9,300 more jobs.

We’ll drink to that! This might not come as a surprise, but 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky wouldn’t be the world leader in bourbon production and distribution without thriving agriculture and agritech sectors. More than 50% of the state’s total land acreage is farmland, including nearly 76,000 farms across 13 million acres.

There are over 5,000 manufacturing-related facilities in Kentucky. In the past five years, Kentucky manufacturers have announced over 900 facility locations or expansion projects. These expansions represent an overall investment of more than $28 billion and create nearly 39,000 additional jobs for Kentuckians.

Then we ship all those Kentucky products everywhere — In 2022, $34.4 billion of Kentucky-made products were exported around the globe.

Top export products last year included aerospace products and parts, pharmaceuticals and medicines, motor vehicles and more, with the top export locations including Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China and France.

Kentucky is within a day’s drive of 65% of the U.S. population, making the state ideal for national delivery of products manufactured right here in Kentucky. Cynthia Fanning, vice president for dishwasher products at GE Appliances, said “We can get our distribution and our products to our customers within a day, almost nearly across this entire country.”

Kentucky is home to three global air shipping hubs, 2,600 miles of freight rail track and 2,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways with 12 active or developing riverports. Whether it’s by land, water or air, Kentucky has the infrastructure and logistics partners necessary to get goods where they need to go.

Before someone can export products globally, there must be a strong and well-trained workforce in place that can handle production at a national and global scale. Kentucky’s workforce is robust and world-class – more than 250,000 Kentuckians work in manufacturing— a total of 1 in every 8 workers.

“For a manufacturing company, in order to get the return on investment quickly, you’ve got to have a good labor force to build a good product and sell it at the right price,” said Jay Choi, chief operating officer at INFAC Corporation.

Industries of nearly any sector can leverage Kentucky’s location, infrastructure and workforce advantages to launch successfully or grow sustainably.

To learn more about manufacturing in Kentucky, visit CED.KY.GOV.

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