Category Archives: Visitors Industry

Lexington’s Visitor Industries: Part 1

Lexington is an established tourism and retail destination, boasting attractions such as Keeneland, the Kentucky Horse Park, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, UK Basketball, and the heart of the state’s horse farm industry. Key assets draw visitors year-round, such as:

  • Events and conferences at the Lexington Convention Center, which contains Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House
  • National and international events such as Alltech’s Annual International Symposium and the 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championship.
  • The University of Kentucky and Transylvania University attract sports fans and parents visiting children.
  • Downtown is a recently revitalized cultural hub with attractions such as live music, art galleries, museums, theaters, and outdoor festivals.
  • Quality convention space at the Lexington Convention Center, adjacent to hotels and in a convenient downtown location.
  • Reliable workforce with hospitality experience.
  • Quality retail and commercial space, such as Hamburg, The Summit, and downtown.
  • Area aesthetics of our beautiful natural landscape, scenic horse farms, and hike and bike trails.
  • Lexington’s exceptional health care services draws people from around the state.

Over 46,000 people are employed in Lexington’s Visitor Industries, which includes three types of businesses: retail stores, travel agencies and convention center organizers, and venues for arts, entertainment, and recreation. Salaries range from an average of $43,000 to $18,000. Employment was steady between 40,000 and 41,000 from 2009 through 2012, likely as a result of the recession, but has quickly increased in recent years.

Growing the area’s visitor industries is an important area of economic development. Marketing the region for business or recreation involves many partners, namely VisitLEX, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Center. To help strengthen and grow these industries, Commerce Lexington Inc. and VisitLEX’s teams 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 to review our strategic plan.

Check back next week for more about the Visitor Industries!

Lexington’s Quality of Life

Lexington offers a high quality of life for a relatively low cost of living and is consistently nationally recognized for its quality of life. This year, Lexington has ranked #5 Best Run City by WalletHub, #7 Best City for New Grads by SmartAsset, and #8 Best City to Start a Business by HeroPay.

In fact, the Cost of Living Index calculates that Lexington’s 2016 housing costs were 84.0 on an index where 100 is the national average, meaning that Lexingtonians pay about $0.84 on the dollar for housing compared to the average of other communities around the nation. For example, Sarasota, FL, and Minot, ND, have a housing score of 99.8, the closest to 100 of the 264 communities surveyed. Residents of Sarasota and Minot could expect to purchase a new 2,400 SF home in a good neighborhood for $329,000 and $326,000 respectively, compared to $264,000 in Lexington. With a 25% down payment, Sarasota and Minot residents could also expect mortgage payments of $1,337 and $1,116, while Lexington resident could expect just $913, according to the 2016 Cost of Living Index.

The Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors (LBAR) is the region’s leading advocate for homeownership and represents more than 2,700 realtors. This month, LBAR announced that there were nearly 4,500 sales in seven counties of the Bluegrass Region (Madison County was not included) totaling over $952 million in the first half of 2017. Fayette County accounted for 65% of sales and 60% of total dollars – 2,682 sales totaling $616,177,622. The median sale price increased 8% from $173,000 in the first half of 2016 to $186,250 in the first half of 2017.

Lexington offers limitless opportunities for higher education, a vibrant downtown that attracts over 2.8 million visitors every year, exciting sports teams, nearby Keeneland and other equine attractions, craft beer and ice cream, renowned bourbon distilleries, and many other assets. Commerce Lexington Inc. and VisitLEX 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.






Note: The Cost of Living Index collects data on new home purchase prices and 30-year fixed interest mortgage rates and calculates fixed monthly principal-and-interest payments over the entire life of the loan assuming  25% down payment. It intended as an estimate for comparison purposes only.

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.


Lexington’s Bourbon Industry

For more than 200 years, Kentucky’s legendary distilleries have crafted the world’s finest bourbons and Lexington is at the heart of the Bourbon Trail. In fact, whiskies are Kentucky’s 9th largest export at $295 million in 2016. To understand the economic significance of the bourbon industry, the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville recently released a report titled “The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Distilling Industry in Kentucky” for the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The report estimates that about one third of the nation’s bourbon industry employment, payroll, and production workers are located in Kentucky. There are around 4,300 direct jobs in the bourbon industry at distillery production sites and corporate offices, and another 15,000 to 17,500 jobs supported by the bourbon industry with nearly $800 million in payroll.

Employment and average annual wages have increased nearly every year since 2001. In fact, the average annual wage has nearly doubled, rising from $53,000 in 2001 to over $95,000 in 2015 (most recent year for which data is available).

There are more than 50 distilleries in Kentucky, a threefold increase since the Urban Institute’s 2009 study on the bourbon industry. This is largely due to the increasing presence of craft distilleries. In fact, the Craft Spirits Data Project estimates that there are 35 craft distilleries in Kentucky (as of August 2016). Last year, distilling production and consumption contributed $190 million in tax revenue to Kentucky state and local governments.

Lexington is at the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon industry. There are 11 distilleries located in the Bluegrass Region, including Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company in Lexington, Buffalo Trace and Castle & Key in Frankfort, and Woodford Reserve in Versailles, with the James E. Pepper brand of the Georgetown Trading Co. opening soon in the Distillery District near downtown Lexington.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association conducted a survey of its members and found that capital projects from 2010 to 2015 totaled $485 million and anticipated capital projects for 2016 to 2021 are around $620 million. These investments provide tax revenue for state and local jurisdictions and indicate a strong future for the bourbon industry in Kentucky.

To support the growing bourbon industry, the University of Kentucky has begun offering courses in Distillation, Wine, and Brewing Studies within the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. These courses will help provide a local workforce, continued research, and innovation to help the uniquely Kentucky bourbon industry thrive. Furthermore, there are more than 70 wineries in Kentucky and the number of craft breweries and cideries are increasing every year.

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.