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Business leaders from across Kentucky received an overview of what the state is doing to stimulate economic growth at a conference in Shelbyville Thursday morning.
John Hindman, Kentucky secretary of economic development, told the 50-plus people in attendance that the key to bringing more businesses into Kentucky is improving the state's education system.
"If I had a tax dollar to spend on economic development, I would put it towards education," he said.
Hindman, who has been in his position since 2007, said the first thing that many businesses look for when they are considering relocating or constructing a new facility is whether or not there is an educated workforce in that area.
"One of the first things that they are going to look for is the high school graduation rates," he said.
The briefing was the first session in a two-day conference held here by Leadership Kentucky.
The conference is designed to educate those in attendance on Kentucky's economic development and the state's equine industry.
All of Thursday's sessions were focused on economic/industrial issues. And on Friday the group was scheduled to visit local Saddlebred farms.
During the session on Thursday, Hindman gave the audience a detailed report on what Kentucky is doing to attract foreign companies into the state.
From offering tax incentives to setting up informational meetings with the heads of national and international companies, the state is being proactive to not only survive the economic slowdown, but to make economic gains, Hindman said.
Hindman said being proactive has especially benefited the state in seeking jobs from Asian countries.
In the first six months of this year, the state has wooed Japanese companies to create 5,000 new jobs in Kentucky by expanding existing factories or creating new ones.
He said the state has also seen economic gains by luring northern companies that are looking to move their business to the south.
Diana B. Ratliff, president/executive director of Leadership Kentucky, said Hindman's talk was designed to give the participants in the program an overview of Kentucky's place in the global economy.
Every year Leadership Kentucky, a non-profit educational organization, selects a group of business and community leaders from across the state to participate in a series of informational meetings. Once a month for seven months, the participants travel to various locations across the state to gain insight into the complex issues that are facing the state.
These issues range from government and agriculture to education and industry.
Ratliff said the program benefits the participants and the communities they represent.
"I think that everyone (who participates) comes away with a more informed and fresh perspective," Ratliff said. "They take that back with them to their communities."
Ratliff said Shelbyville was chosen for the two-day event because of its prominent Saddlebred farms and numerous factories.
Along with giving participants in-depth information on a variety of topics, the program also allows members to network and workshop ideas, Ratliff said.
After Hindman's talk, a panel of local industry leaders and factory presidents fielded questions from members of the class.
On Friday, was scheduled to learn about Saddlebred horses and their place in the state's growing equine industry.
The group will spend the day at Undulata Farm and will have lunch at Claudia Sanders Dinner House.
Shelbyville native Beth Ann Kovacs, assistant Vice President/Business Development Coordinator for Citizens Union Bank, is a current Leadership Kentucky class member.
Kovacs, who participated in Leadership Shelby in 2005 and went on to be president of Leadership Shelby in 2007, said Leadership Kentucky has allowed her to understand the issues that are facing the state.
"It's been a big eye-opener for me," she said. "I've learned a lot more about the significant issues that face our state."