Category Archives: Education

Lexington’s New Education Rankings

Lexington has again ranked among the most educated communities in the country, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data.

Compared to other cities in the United States with at least 300,000 people, Lexington ranks #8 for advanced degrees and #13 for bachelors’s degrees or higher. Nearly 44% of Lexingtonians aged 25 or older hold at least a bachelor’s degrees and 19.2% hold an advanced degree.

The Census Bureau estimates that 34% of degree-holders majored in science and engineering and 11% majored in science and engineering related fields, while 20% majored in business, 11% majored in education, and 24% majored in arts, humanities, and other fields.

Lexington’s number and percentage of degree-holders has increased overall in the past few years. Since 2010, the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 3 percentage points and the percentage with an advanced degree increased by 2.6 percentage points. Although the percentages are small, these numbers represent an additional 11,000 advanced degree holders and 17,800 bachelor’s degrees or higher.

An additional 42,000 people are enrolled in college or graduate school, including 64.4% of residents aged 18 to 24, indicating that Lexington will continue to offer a highly educated workforce for all industries.

Lexington’s Target Industries

Boasting a robust economy, the Bluegrass is a diversified growth engine for economic success. There are several key industries that are particularly significant to Lexington’s economy and are strategic targets for economic development.

Advanced Manufacturing

Advanced manufacturing uses innovation and technology to improve the manufacturing process, typically through computer technology, advanced robotics, clean technology, automation, innovation, precision control, customization, and waste reduction. The Bluegrass Region has a strong advanced manufacturing sector, particularly in the automotive industry, biotechnology products, and renewable energy machinery. The region’s strong transportation network allows for the easy import of component supplies and the export and distribution of finished products. To support this sector, Lexington strives to help advanced manufacturing  companies expand research and development activities and enhance product lines, and there are many educational programs in place to continue building a workforce to fuel the manufacturing industry for years to come.

Animal Sciences

Animal sciences involves the production and management of livestock and domestic animals. Animal scientists use biological, physical, and social sciences to understand and study animals’ physiology, behavior, welfare, nutrition, genetics, and diseases. The equine industry is an important part of animal sciences, particularly in Lexington. Horses are a major part of Lexington’s economy and are at the heart of our local culture, with an estimated 150 horse farms in Lexington and 450 in the region. Lexington and the Bluegrass Region have a strong infrastructure to support the horse industry, including horse farms, race tracks, the Kentucky Horse Parks, museums, equestrian events, equine medical facilities, and research and development at the University of Kentucky.

Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement/Foreign Direct Investment 

The Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) is a regional initiative in the 22-county region anchored by Lexington and Louisville. Recognizing the importance of foreign direct investment (FDI) for innovation, research, exports production, and high-wage jobs, the BEAM Trade and Investment Plan was developed in collaboration with the Brookings Global Cities program to examine FDI in the BEAM Region and proposes the way forward for metropolitan cultivation of FDI that helps build a resilient and growing regional economy. Lexington and the Bluegrass Region have a strong presence of foreign direct investment that makes important contributions to our economy. The Bluegrass Region is home to 21% of all foreign-owned facilities in Kentucky and 23% of the workforce – that’s 99 facilities with ownership from 18 different countries providing full-time employment to over 23,900 people (as of April 2017). In fact, Lexington recently ranked 7th Best City for Attracting Foreign Investment by fDi Intelligence.

Business and Professional Services

Lexington is a regional hub for business and professional services, which help companies operate by providing services and support such as legal, architectural, engineering, consulting, and real estate services, as well as back-office support operations, accounting and payroll services, and processing facilities. Companies engaged in providing professional services tend to concentrate in metropolitan areas near their clients, while back-office and support services companies prefer lower-cost locations. Lexington is idea for both, with 100 headquarters operations and one of the lowest cost-of-business locations in the country. In fact, Lexington was named #8 City with the Lowest Startup Costs by Smart Assets in 2016 and #16 Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes in 2015.

Clean Technology 

Clean tech uses technologies, processes, or services to minimize the environmental impact of production, energy consumption, and power generation. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are core to clean tech. Clean tech is an emerging industry in Lexington and there are many regional assets to help propel the industry forward. Of particular importance are the growing number of biotechnology firms in the area and the high concentration of life sciences research being conducted at the University of Kentucky. Many partners work alongside UK’s research and development of clean and renewable energy sources. The Center for Applied Creative Research (CAER) is a multidisciplinary energy technology research center to improve the environment, featuring multiple specialized research facilities.

Life Sciences 

In the Bluegrass Region and Kentucky, Lexington is a hub for the life sciences industry. Lexington has leveraged top ranked research programs at the University of Kentucky, a culture of innovation and commercialization, a superior business climate, and an expansive network of medical centers to provide an environment where any market niche of the life sciences industry can grow.  The life sciences industry has two components: direct patient care and biotechnology. Direct patient care includes hospitals, nursing facilities, and medical centers, and is a prominent market in Lexington with a strong base of health care facilities, employers, resources, and several major medical centers. Biotechnology includes animal and plant science research and designing and manufacturing medical/veterinary products. Biotechnology is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and over 50 biotech companies have chosen to locate in Lexington.

Software and Information Technology

Lexington has a unique business mix of software and information technology industry leaders, world-class small businesses, and social networking and interactive media startups. With such diverse businesses in the industry, Lexington is an ideal location for software and IT businesses. Software leaders include IBM branch offices, Funai Electric Company, Conduent, and Software Quality Systems (SQS). Lexington’s local startups are making a name for themselves in the world of social networking and game development, such as Frogdice Inc., an independent game developer of online role playing games and virtual worlds, and Gun Media, another Lexington-based gaming company whose goal is to build fresh and exciting interactive experiences for a wide range of platforms and gamers.

Visitor Industries 

Visitor industries includes the sale of goods and the accommodation, entertainment, and recreational opportunities available for tourists, visitors, and residents, including businesses such as retail trade, travel arrangements, convention and trade shows, performing arts, spectator sports, museums, and food services. Lexington is a great place for business and leisure. Lexington is at the heart of the horse industry, the start of the Bourbon Trail, and the home of the University of Kentucky. Visitors are drawn to Lexington for events and conferences at the Lexington Convention Center, which contains Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House. In addition, Lexington has attracted visitors through both national and international events such as the Creative Cities Summit, the Alltech World Equestrian Games, and the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championship. To help strengthen and grow Lexington’s visitor industries, Commerce Lexington Inc. and VisitLEX’s teams have embarked upon a more formal partnership to develop strategies to recruit associations and business meetings to the area. Our teams meet quarterly to discuss various topics including infrastructure, marketing strategies, client feedback, incentives, and other items, as well as review our strategic plan.


Economic Dashboard

Introducing Commerce Lexington’s Economic Dashboard! This tool measures aspects of Lexington and the Bluegrass Region that are important to economic development, including our highly educated workforce, business climate, foreign direct investment, and quality of life. (Full-sized version can be found here.)

This is the first year of the Dashboard. Data reflects both Lexington and the Bluegrass Region. Detailed and supplemental information is available.

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!