Category Archives: Education

Startups in Lexington

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are a great place for business to locate. Our strategic central location, highly educated workforce, diverse economy, network of colleges and universities, high quality of life, low business costs, and transportation access by road, rail, and sky have attracted major companies to the area, including Toyota, Xerox, Amazon, Valvoline, and many others. However, Lexington is also good at growing companies.

Entrepreneurs can find guidance from many sources in Lexington. To name just a few, the Kentucky Innovation Network, the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership, the Bluegrass Small Business Development Center, Awesome Inc., Lexington Venture Club, 5Across, and Lexington SCORE have helped many entrepreneurs build their startup business.

With the school year just beginning, it seems appropriate to highlight a new initiative to support innovation and encourage entrepreneurship: the University of Kentucky Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship’s Venture Studio.

Venture Studio will provide real-world startup experience for members of the UK community, including undergraduates, graduate students, post docs, faculty, and staff. During Venture Studio Bootcamp, participants will explore a problem and develop a solution — their startup. Throughout the semester, teams will work with mentors, identify customers and procure feedback, perfect an elevator speech about their project/business, create a prototype, understand intellectual property rights, and develop financial, marketing, and sales pitches and projections. At the end of the semester, teams present final pitches to a panel of community investors, who select teams to move onto local, regional, and national business plan competitions in the spring semester, including the UK Venture Challenge, the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Challenge, the Georgia Bowl, the Alltech Innovation Challenge, Idea State U, and Global Venture Investment Labs.

Venture Studio offers three unique benefits.

First, the program gives more advanced students a headstart into the economy and their chosen industry. Participants gain access to angel investors, mentors, client focus groups, financial and marketing experts, resources, and constructive feedback at every stage of their business development. These are scarce and valuable resources that other fledgling entrepreneurs may not have easy access to.

Second, Venture Studio  is cross-disciplinary. A team of industry experts may have a brilliant idea but most will need people with other skills, such as finance, software, and legal expertise, to help ensure their startup succeeds. Venture Studio will bring together people of various expertise who may not have otherwise found each other, increasing their startup’s chance of success.

Third, Venture Studio has two subtle built-in advantages: deadlines and expectations. As well intending as every entrepreneur may be, life tends to get in the way. Venture Studio requires weekly attendance, sets goals, and defines tasks, leading teams down the path of creating a startup while holding each responsible for completing each step. This commitment obligates participants to prioritize their startup and sets the framework for achieving the goal of actually creating a business.

University of Kentucky student entrepreneurs have a history of success. Last year, five UK student startups placed in various business plan competitions, including Idea State U, the Alltech Innovation Challenge, Lexington Venture Club, the Cardinal Challenge, and 5Across. These entrepreneurs were MBA Candidates, Pharmacy PhD Candidates, and students from the College of Design, with assistance from professors in the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Their project topics included bio-fuel, food/beverage coloring, mining dust and emission solutions, and enzyme production (Commerce Lexington’s strategic target areas are advanced manufacturing, animal and equine sciences, business and professional services, clean technology, life sciences, software and information technology, and visitor industries).

The University of Kentucky has been a valuable partner in growing Lexington’s workforce and has now created a venue for growing Lexington’s businesses. Check back in a few months for updates!


An Intern’s Perspective

We at Commerce Lexington proudly promote the area’s well-educated workforce and talented population as key resources for companies locating in our region. In fact, every year Commerce Lexington welcomes talented interns to our staff, many who either call the Bluegrass Region home or who are attending one of our local colleges. Our most recent intern was Faisal Hamza.

Faisal was involved with our Public Policy and Economic Development teams and made many meaningful contributions to discussions and projects, particularly about education policy and foreign direct investment. While at Commerce Lexington, Faisal wrote a well-researched report on apprenticeships as a form of workforce training, including explaining how apprenticeships prepare future workers, how apprenticeships could be useful to the Bluegrass Region, and steps to further develop apprenticeship programs. From this report comes an eloquent phrase that summarizes the goal of Commerce Lexington’s economic development team:

“The expansion of apprenticeships would of course be a long-term project with the effects of it not being felt for a few years, but that is what economic development is about: planning for the future in order to facilitate growth and prosperity to the region and its people.”

We asked Faisal to write about his experience at Commerce Lexington:

An Intern’s Perspective, by Faisal Hamza

My first impression of Commerce Lexington could not have been a better one. I grew up in Dubai and am currently attending university in the United Kingdom, so this was the first time I was interning in the USA. My family recently invested in a manufacturing company in Lexington called Blue Star Plastics, so I thought this would be the ideal place to gain experience. Before my arrival however, my initial thought was “Is this just going to be another thing to put on my CV?” Many of my previous experiences with internships were quite unsatisfactory; they were boring, unconstructive and lacking a challenge so I was worried that coming here would be the same. As you may have already guessed, I was in fact very wrong.

The first people I met at Commerce Lexington were Gina from the Economic Development department and Andi from Public Policy. After introducing themselves and the company, any reservations that I might leave empty-handed were evaporated. I can safely say that they are two of the kindest, most hard-working people I have met. They and the rest of the staff at Commerce Lexington have been unbelievably accommodating and helpful from day one. There was not a trace of condescending attitude despite my comparatively young age; it was the first time I was able to allow my maturity to show through during an internship, enabling me to contribute and integrate. Although I was mainly involved with the Economic Development and Public Policy departments, it did not stop other members of the chamber from also being extremely welcoming. I was shocked to see that some people I rarely engaged with even remembered my name (thank you Tyrone for your concern when I was outside in the rain!). I don’t think they realize just how great they are, both in personality and in work ethic. It was truly refreshing to meet people of such caliber and experience.

I would personally recommend this internship with Commerce Lexington to anyone interested. Just in the short time I was here I managed to attend various economic and policy meetings, produce analysis reports, develop and suggest my own ideas and even meet Mitch McConnell.  For anyone particularly interested in economics, public policy or business or just passionate about contributing to the public in general, this is the ideal experience. The process of policy making and facilitating growth in the economy are just a few of the areas you will become accustomed to. Even if you unsure of your future career path, working here provides you with a certain understanding and skill that can be applied to various areas of life. The impacts of this sector are significant to society as a whole, no matter what they do.

My international exposure proved to be very useful here, not only as a point of conversation with much of the staff (learning about fraternities/sororities was a particular horror); it was a valuable asset when analyzing policies, trends and in particular, methods of attracting FDI. It allowed me to provide another perspective on issues. For example, having looked at ways to improve the workforce in Lexington, I wrote a report recommending the expansion of the apprenticeship system in Lexington, something that is highly underused in the USA. I would not have been able to do this without my prior experience of having lived in the United Kingdom which has an expansive apprenticeship scheme. It goes to show how mutually beneficial engaging with other countries can be.

Lexington is the ideal location for businesses wishing to expand into the U.S. market. Despite this, if there is at least one thing I know it is that people abroad have rarely heard of Kentucky (apart from their fried chicken and horses!), let alone Lexington itself. Surveys amongst companies also indicated that most came here only off the back of personal connections and recommendations by other companies. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, so once Toyota expanded here a while ago many others followed suit. Using all of this information, I proposed in a meeting between various Kentucky chambers that in order to put Kentucky on the map they should target and develop relationships with specific countries. Taking state/local leadership on a trade visit would be highly received in many cultures who highly value such a personal gesture. Trade visits are already conducted by the chamber but it is now something they might look at expanding and making more official.

Whether or not these ideas ever come to fruition here is not the point however. The point is that because of the encouraging and resourceful environment provided by Commerce Lexington, I quickly found that there was space for me to be creative and genuinely contribute to the organization, which gives you valuable confidence. To be able to rub shoulders with people of such experience and integrity would be refreshing for anyone, regardless of their age. I can also sincerely say that Kentucky and Lexington will hold a place in my life from now on. The people and the place leave a great impression on you and I can now see why companies skeptical of moving here at first end up loving it!

I would like to sincerely thank Bob, Gina, Andi and the rest of Commerce Lexington for everything they have done for me. From the upbeat environment and laughs to the challenging assignments, it has all combined to give me an amazing life experience that I will take into the future. I was taken out of my comfort zone a few times (especially when writing this article!) and I am better for it. Although it was a tough decision, I have come to the conclusion that I do not regret giving up a portion of my vacation to come and work for Commerce Lexington. If that doesn’t make you interested then I’m not sure what will!

Education for Kentucky’s Aerospace Workforce

Kentucky’s aerospace industry is taking flight! At $7.7 billion, aerospace parts and products were Kentucky’s largest export category in 2014 and Kentucky exported more aerospace and aviation products that every other state, except California and Washington.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are particularly appealing to the aerospace industry because of the area’s extensive network of colleges, universities, and other educational institutions with aerospace and aviation programs working to develop the region’s workforce.

NASA Kentucky is located in downtown Lexington on the University of Kentucky campus and operates the Space Grant Consortium and EPSCoR program. The Space Grant is a higher education program funding students and supporting research and workforce development in STEM areas, as well as expanding access to other educational resources through networking. The NASA Exprimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) award programs support research and partnership with NASA and offer improved access to workshops, conferences, and seminars through grants.

The Aviation Museum of Kentucky (AMK)located in Lexington’s Bluegrass Airport, houses 20,000 square feet of restored historic airplanes and modern aircraft. Visitors learn about how aviation came to Kentucky and about the science of flight. The Museum strives to introduce young people to aviation and encourage aviation as a career. With the Learning through Aviation program, the AMK helps teachers bring aviation into the classroom and shows how STEM subjects build a foundation for successful aerospace and aviation careers. During the summer, the AMK’s Summer Camp introduces 10 to 15 year olds to aviation, teaching them the history of aviation, the principles of flight, aircraft and engine design, about aviation careers, and gives them hands on experience with a flight simulator and actual flights with instructors. Besides the primary Lexington location, camps are also held in Hazard, Bowling Green, Louisville, and Pikeville, and nearly one third of the campers attend for free through the Museum’s scholarship program.

Nearby, Eastern Kentucky University’s Aviation program offers the nation’s first FAA-approved 1,000-hour power aviation degree program. Students graduate with a concentration in Professional Flight, Aerospace Management, or Aerospace Technology, with supporting courses in mathematics, physics, and business management. Graduates are prepared for an array of aerospace and aviation careers, including piloting, aviation/aerospace management, military, and aerospace technology.

The National Air & Space Institute/Air & Space Academy is a four-year program operating in high schools throughout Kentucky, including several in the Bluegrass Region, that teach high school students aerospace concepts and skills through a STEM curriculum designed to prepare them for college and the aerospace industry. Students engage in online  course study, flight training, and competitions that apply knowledge and skill to create functioning aviation products, such as high performance wings or nanosatellites. Students can receive college credit for participation in the program, giving them a boost into their future careers.

How important is Kentucky’s specialized training and growing aerospace workforce? The Kentucky Legislature has directed the Cabinet for Economic Development, the Transportation Cabinet, and the Commission on Military Affairs to conduct a study on the aerospace and aviation industry in Kentucky. The report will look at where aviation/aerospace parts manufacturing facilities are located, their workforce needs, tactics to grow the industry and create more jobs, an understanding of the industry’s economic impact, and will provide an overall better understanding of how the aerospace/aviation industry affects Kentucky’s economy. Stay tuned!

Jobs in Lexington — Mapped!

Job creation, expansion, and retention are at the core of economic development. Numbers and an accompanying narrative are usually used to explain the economic state of Lexington and the Bluegrass Region, but an exciting new format has just been released.

Robert Manduca, a PhD student at Harvard University, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics database to create an interactive map of jobs, modeled after Dustin Cable’s Racial Dot Map.

Every job in the United States is plotted on this map–or at least all of the jobs enrolled in state unemployment insurance programs and some federal jobs. In total, 96% of civilian wage and salary jobs are included.

Each dot represents one job and is color-coded by industry.

  • Red — Manufacturing and Trade
  • Blue — Professional Services
  • Green — Healthcare, Education, and Government
  • Yellow — Retail, Hospitality, and Other Services


The job clusters of the Golden Triangle between Lexington, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati are fairly sizable and easy to see, even zoomed out far enough to view the entire continental country. This high concentration of jobs is good news for our region and demonstrates our competitiveness.

Take a look at the Bluegrass Region and the surrounding area:


A few details that reflect the region’s major employers pop out:

  • Frankfort is mostly green, which is expected from the state capitol.
  • The red area north of Lexington (around Georgetown) is Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Scott County, the second largest employer in the region with 7,900 employees.
  • The red grouping to the east of the city is Lockheed Martin, another major employer with around 1,100 employees.
  • The red grouping near Berea is Tokico (USA) Inc. (Hitachi) in Madison County with 1,350 employees.
  • The red area near Versailles consists of Osram Sylvania Glass Plant, Quad/Graphics, Pilkington North America, Inc., and Yokohama Industries America Inc. in Woodford County. Together these companies employ almost 2,400 people.
  • The red south of Lexington is the Enterprise Industrial Park in Jessamine County.

Lexington has a mix of all four colors and industries, illustrating the city’s healthy economic diversity.


Healthcare, education, and government jobs (green dots) and manufacturing and trade jobs (red dots) are clearly prominent in Lexington.

Education is one of Lexington’s strengths. Just over 40% of Lexingtonians have a bachelor’s degree or higher and 17.2% have a graduate or professional degree, far above the national and state averages. Not surprisingly, the University of Kentucky is the region’s largest employer with 12,430 employees and is primarily represented by a solid block of green in the near-center of the city. Fayette County Public Schools is also a major employer with 5,427 employees spread throughout the city boosting the number of green dots.

Healthcare facilities also sustain a sizeable portion of the workforce in Lexington. Theses jobs appear throughout the city, with large concentrations in the south-center, center, and south-east. In addition to providing an abundance of quality patient care, these centers conduct cutting-edge research and help attract biotech and high-tech companies. Below are a few of the highest healthcare employers:

  • KentuckyOne Health: 3,000 employees
  • Baptist Health: 1,924 employees
  • Veterans Medical Center: 1,565 employees
  • Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital: 1,000 employees

Manufacturing is another major part of Lexington’s economy. The majority of manufacturing and trade jobs are concentrated in the north area of Lexington and include some of the city’s major employers: Lexmark (2,145 employees), (1,200 employees), Trane (1,000 employees), Link-Belt Construction Equipment Co. (750 employees), Webasto Roof Systems (720 employees), Big Ass Solutions (550 employees), and Schneider Electric (500 employees), among others.

The Fayette Mall and Hamburg Pavilion shopping centers are also easily distinguishable.

Maps like this are an excellent tool when planning transportation, housing, emergency routes, city services provision, zoning, and events. By showing the spatial patterns, clusters, and concentrations of industries and jobs, maps offer another way to understand the community’s economy and compare to other cities.

For data nerds, the NAICS codes used are:

  • Red, Manufacturing and Trade – 11 (Agriculture and Forestry), 21 (Mining), 22 (Utilities), 23 (Construction), 31-33 (Manufacturing), 42 (Wholesale Trade), 48-49 (Transportation and Warehousing)
  • Blue, Professional Services – 51 (Information), 52 (Finance and Insurance), 53 (Real Estate), 54 (Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services), 55 (Management of Companies and Enterprises)
  • Green, Healthcare, Education, and Government – 61 (Educational Services), 62 (Health Care), 81 (Other Services – largely Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations)
  • Yellow, Retail, Hospitality, and Other Services – 44-45 (Retail Trade), 56 (Administrative and Support Services), 71 (Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – largely Amusement, Gambling, and Recreation), 72 (Accommodation and Food Services)

Note: Data represents 2010. 

12 Reasons That Lexington is the Perfect College Town

“The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.” – Edward Glaeser, Harvard economist

Home to fifteen institutions of higher education and boasting one the nation’s most educated workforce’s, Lexington has a proud academic tradition (Transylvania University is the 16th oldest college in the nation). As the University of Kentucky’s enrollment tops 30,000 students for the first time (thanks to a record number of out-of-state students) – we’re excited to report that the Lexington metro has been recognized by the American Institute for Economic Research as one of the top college destinations in America.

University of Kentucky Campus
University of Kentucky Campus. Source: University of Kentucky

In a ranking of small metros (MSAs with 250,000 to 1 million residents), Lexington beat out other well-known destinations like Honolulu and Tallahassee and scored top marks in categories like cost of housing and arts and leisure. Here’s the full list:

12 Reasons that Lexington is the Perfect College Town

Opportunities (we got ‘em)

  1. $6,580 – academic research and development expenditure per student in the MSA
  1. 35.2% – percent of people 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the MSA
  1. $27,365 – median earnings for metro workers (higher than Ann Arbor, MI and Provo, UT)

 Student Life (it’s good)

  1. 113 – number of students per 1,000 metro residents
  1. $717 – fair market rent of a 2-bedroom apartment
  1. 4.4% – percentage of workers that bike, walk, or take public transportation

Culture (it’s diverse)

  1. 43 – number of arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments per 100,000 people
  1. 3.3% – percentage of students that are foreign born
  1. 6.5% – percentage of workers that work in innovative fields like engineering, architecture, design, and the like

Economic Health (consistently robust)

10. 6.7% – average metro unemployment rate in 2013

11. 1.01 – annual change in share of population with college degrees

12. – 22.3% – net change in businesses per 100,000 residents from 2008-2011 (that’s actually a decrease, which follows national trends. Nashville, for example, experienced a 29.5% decrease in entrepreneurial activity during the same period).

Boom Town is straight-up crushing it, but don’t take our word for it – you can get it straight from Henry Clay himself:

CLX Economic Development Team

 Commerce Lexington Update

  • SRC of Lexington, a remanufacturer of engines, drive engine components and hydraulics for industrial equipment, announced plans to create up to 50 new jobs and invest nearly $1.9 million into expansion.
  • Kiplinger named Lexington the 7th most affordable big city in America.
  • Kentucky ranks 8th in the U.S. for best business climate, according to Site Selection magazine’s yearly Top US Business Climate rankings.
  • Global Entrepreneurship Week is November 17th through the 23rd.  Click here to learn more and to view the schedule of events.