Kentucky’s global trade showing remarkable growth

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For most of the world, Kentucky is known for three things: fried chicken, horses and bourbon.

Over the past dozen or so years, however, the commonwealth’s international reputation has grown significantly in other areas as well. In fact, our exports doubled between 2000 and 2010, staying well ahead of the national average for most of the decade.

In 2010, we shipped more than $19 billion worth of goods to other nations. Only 18 states sent more, and if you take away those that share a border with Canada or Mexico or are along the coasts, our ranking rises to fifth.

Canada is our biggest trade partner by far. In 2010, it bought more than the next five countries – the United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan, Germany and Brazil – combined.

China was eighth that year, but it has climbed the ranks quickly this past decade. Since 2000, the value of our exports there has gone up more than 1,000 percent.

Historically, India has not been a major trade partner with Kentucky, but that appears to be changing as well. Last year, an Indian company announced a deal to invest as much as $180 million for a flexible-packaging facility in Elizabethtown, and last week Gov. Beshear’s office said that companies in that country would buy $7 billion worth of coal mined here and in West Virginia over the next 25 years. That’s great news for one of our signature industries.

Not surprisingly, manufacturing dominates our exports, and nearly a fifth of Kentucky’s 209,000 jobs in this industry – 90 percent of which are found in small- to medium-sized businesses – are directly supported by what we send to other nations.  Our top-exported products are transportation equipment and chemicals.

As our export market continues to grow, foreign companies are increasing their investment here, too. In 2007, the latest year for which we have statistics, this was estimated at $28 billion, which includes the value of the factories and the equipment they have inside.

With Toyota’s largest North American plant located in Georgetown, Japan is first on this list, with investments topping $11 billion. Next were Germany, the UK and France. Overall, there are about 400 factories in Kentucky owned by foreign companies, employing almost 76,000 people.

This week is a good time to focus on what we can offer to other countries, because Monday was known as Kentucky World Trade Day. It highlights an annual conference that is known as the state’s largest gathering of international trade and business professionals.

If chicken, horses and bourbon are always the first things to come to mind when those in other countries think of Kentucky, there’s every reason to believe that we are also well on our way to adding a few other items to that list.


Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.