FRANKFORT, Ky. – A new right-to-work law has sent a clear signal to companies around the world “that Kentucky’s open for business,” Gov. Matt Bevin said Wednesday.
“We have gotten, almost on a daily basis, unsolicited comments from economic development folks, workforce development folks, site selection people, people who just said, ‘wow, now we believe that Kentucky’s open for business,’” Bevin told business leaders who gathered at the Governor’s Mansion to celebrate passage of the law. “We are talking to people who were not going to come and consider us until this was done.”
The gathering of top Kentucky business leaders came on the same day that Bevin announced the state's exports broke an all-time record in 2016, his first year in office, with $29.24 billion in goods and services shipped abroad, a 5.8 percent increase from 2015.
Aerospace products and parts led all categories with more than $10.85 billion in goods exported internationally, an increase of more than 24 percent over 2015. Kentucky ranked second nationally for 2016 in aerospace-related exports.
The right-to-work law passed the General Assembly and was signed into law the first week of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers included an emergency clause, which meant an immediate reversal of employees being forced to join labor unions or pay dues to keep their jobs.
“It will literally open up a full third more opportunities for us,” Bevin said. “Instead of fishing in two-thirds of the pond, we will be fishing in the entire pond.”
House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the business leaders gathered at the mansion and others around the state had been pushing for the law for years.
“This is a bill for you all,” Hoover told them.
Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Trey Grayson said the new law will mean more jobs.
“There were projects where, otherwise, people might have been interested in Kentucky, but we were not considered because we were not right-to-work,” Grayson said.
Grayson, who represents business leaders just south of Cincinnati in a portion of Kentucky that shares borders with Indiana and Ohio, said the law was vital.
Grayson said his message to companies looking to expand is that ‘if you’re interested in Greater Cincinnati, you now have a serious right-to-work option.”
Bevin said the record-level of exports “is unequivocal proof of our positive trajectory.”
“The economic future in Kentucky is very bright, indeed,” he said.
Overall, the state’s 2016 exports increased $1.6 billion over the 2015 total. That placed Kentucky eighth among all U.S. states by percentage increase, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Division and WISERTrade.
Kentucky exported to 199 nations in 2016, with Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico and Brazil as the state’s top five trade partners. Kentucky sold nearly $7.5 billion in products and services to Canada last year, nearly three times as much as the next destination, the U.K.
Among other major exports, motor vehicles accounted for $3.32 billion, pharmaceuticals and medicines reached $1.81 billion, and motor vehicle parts stood at $1.76 billion.
The horse industry ranked first in the nation in 2016, with $195.2 million exported, a 33.1 percent increase over the previous year.