Category Archives: Visitors Industry

Lexington’s Advantages in the Equine Industry

The horse industry is a leading sector of Kentucky’s economy. Over 72,000 jobs are supported by the horse industry in Kentucky and horses were among the state’s top 25 exports in 2014, totaling $175 million. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey, there are 242,400 horses in Kentucky and 2011 equine-related sales totaled approximately $1.2 billion.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are a substantial part of Kentucky’s horse industry. The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey estimates that there are 67,500 horses in the Bluegrass Region and 24,600 in Lexington alone. Let’s put that in perspective. Kentucky has 39,486 square miles of land and Fayette County has 283 square miles of land. That means that Fayette County takes up less than 1% of Kentucky’s land but is home to 10% of Kentucky’s horses. Similarly, the Bluegrass Region is 5% of Kentucky’s land area but contains 27.8% of Kentucky’s horses.

The equine industry is also at the heart of Lexington’s culture. Just driving through the city, visitors will encounter streets named after famous racehorses — such as Citation Boulevard, Man O’War Boulevard, and Sir Barton Way, to name only a few — and over 80 unique art horses. These icons were placed throughout Lexington as part of Horse Mania 2010, a public arts project celebrating Lexington’s horses and artists. It’s no wonder that Lexington was ranked #6 Most Inspiring City for Young Artists and #7 Best City for Quality of Life.

Selection of Horse Mania art horses ready for auction. Image by Eventing Nation.

Lexington and the Bluegrass Region have a strong infrastructure to support the horse industry. According to VisitLex, there are approximately 150 horse farms in Lexington and about 450 in the region. Horse farms typically focus on a specific breed of horse and farms in the Bluegrass Region tend to specialize in breeding and training Thoroughbred horses for racing. The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey estimates that there are over 17,000 Thoroughbred horses in Fayette County valued at $2.5 billion and 42,210 Thoroughbred horses in the Bluegrass Region valued at over $4.9 billion.

In addition to horse farms, Lexington is home to the Red Mile Harness Track, Keeneland Race Track, the Kentucky Horse Park, the International Museum of the Horse, equestrian retirement facilities such as Old Friends Farm, world class equine medical facilities, and research and development at the University of Kentucky, a leader in animal sciences and equine research.

Horse racing is a major part of the horse industry and living in Lexington. The Red Mile Harness Track is the second oldest harness track in the country, known for its one-mile track made of red clay. However, Keeneland is the more popular racing facility, drawing the world’s best horses. Thousands of people every year flock to Keeneland to bet on the horses and spend time enjoying the festive atmosphere in a unique entertainment venue, and the Keeneland Library is one of the largest resources for horse and racing information in the world with approximately 30,000 books, 400,000 photographic negatives, and thousands of other historic documents.

Keeneland is also a significant contributor to Lexington’s local economy. The University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research recently conducted a study to determine Keeneland’s impact on Fayette County’s economy by surveying participants at the 2014 Fall Meet, the September Yearling Sale, and the November Breeding Sale. All together, these three events generated $75.6 million in direct spending in Fayette County and almost $6.4 million in tax revenue that would not have entered Fayette County without Keeneland. In total, Keeneland’s Fall Economic Impact was $455 million. (Read more here.)

In 2015, Lexington hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championship at Keeneland for the first time. Lexington welcomed the Breeders’ Cup with a week of events and activities, such as the Feeders’ Cup, the annual Thriller Parade, Here Come the Mummies, the Post Position Draw party, the Prelude to the Cup, art exhibits, horse farm tours, breakfasts at the track, and live music. The city expected 24,000 to 40,000 visitors each day, bringing revenue to Lexington’s restaurants, shops, and hotels that otherwise would not have entered the local economy. The economic impact is expected to be at least $65 million. (More detailed information can be found in last week’s blog post.)

The Kentucky Horse Park is another asset of the region’s horse industry. With 1,200 acres, the Kentucky Horse Park is a working farm with 50 breeds of horses. Over 30 equine management and breed organizations are located in the park, including the National Horse Center, the United States Equestrian Federation, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and the International Museum of the Horse, the largest, most comprehensive horse museum in the world.

Many equestrian events are held at the Kentucky Horse Park, including the Rolex Three Day Event, the National Reining Championship, and the 2010 World Equestrian Games. In fact, Lexington was the first location outside of Europe to host the World Equestrian Games, a testament to Lexington’s equestrian culture and strong equine industry. Of the more than 507,000 Game attendees, 70% were from out-of-state, meaning that Lexington’s horse industry attracted 307,000 people that otherwise would not have spent money in Lexington (direct spending was $128.2 million). In total, the 2010 Games brought $4.5 million in local tax revenue to Lexington and $18.38 million to Kentucky in state tax revenue.

Lexington and Kentucky are also home to the best equine medical facilities in the world, including  Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Furthermore, the University of Kentucky and its continued efforts to advance equine research have been valuable assets to the horse industry.

The University of Kentucky Ag Equine Programs serves the equine industry by offering several testing services, reference laboratories, seminars, library and information services, diagnostic services by the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL), and evaluation of horse pastures. Every year the VDL processes over 53,000 cases and the Horse Pasture Evaluation Program has evaluated over 18,000 farm acres. Top equine research is conducted at the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center. In 2014, more than 80 faculty and graduate students were engaged in equine research, supported by 20 research grants totaling almost $2 million.

With a highly educated workforce, access to top colleges and universities, a strong commitment to equine R&D, two race tracks, thousands of horses, and a prominent horse culture, the equine industry will continue to thrive in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region!

Lexington Welcomes Breeders’ Cup!

Commerce Lexington is proud to be an official partner of the Breeders’ Cup World Championship this year, giving us an opportunity to promote our city to thousands of people from around the nation and the world!


The Breeders’ Cup is a two-day series of Thoroughbred horse races, known as the world’s most prestigious international racing event. This year there will be 13 races with approximately $26 million in purses and awards. This is the first time the Breeders’ Cup has come to Keeneland and Commerce Lexington is ready to showcase our city.

BreedersCupBreakfastDisplay1Standing banners greet owners, trainers, and other dignitaries at the Breakfast Marquee at Keeneland every morning this week.  

BreedersCupScrollingCommerce Lexington promotes our city with a scrolling video of Lexington’s rankings and accolades in downtown Lexington.

 The economic impact of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup in Louisville was $53.3 million and the economic impact of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California totaled $64.9 million, including $39.5 million in increased direct spending, and $2.9 million in local tax revenue.

Based on last year’s economic impact, the Breeders’ Cup is expected to bring $65 million to Lexington’s economy.

Although it is difficult to predict an event’s exact economic benefit based on previous occurrences at other locations, there is no reason to think that this year’s economic impact would be any less than in previous years. In fact, Lexington is celebrating the Breeders’ Cup with weeklong community events and activities to draw people into the city early and the economic impact may be much higher than expected.

Events began on Saturday, October 24th with the Feeders’ Cup, a food truck competition featuring vendors from around the tristate area. On Sunday, Lexington’s annual Thriller Parade drew a crowd downtown as 2,000 zombies performed, followed by Here Come the Mummies on the Kentucky Ale Stage. Monday was the Post Position Draw, and every attendee was greeted at the entrance by Commerce Lexington and banners promoting our city and Lexington’s achievements, such as being ranked #10 Best State for Doing Business, #8 Best Large City to Live In, and #16 Best Place for Business and Careers. Finally, the Prelude to the Cup was held on Thursday as Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup tested logistics. Nine races were held during the Prelude and the winner of the Star Spangled Stakes singing contest performed.

Other Breeders’ Cup events and activities included art exhibits, horse farm tours, breakfasts at the track, and live music. In total, there were over 30 events, more than all other Breeders’ Cup cities’ events combined, with between 24,000 to 40,000 people expected each day, visiting Lexington’s local businesses and spending money that otherwise would not have entered our local economy.

Record breaking crowds are also expected at the races. Keeneland has 8,800 permanent seats and record attendance is 40,617, but Breeders’ Cup turnout tends to be over 50,000 daily. To accommodate this increase, Keeneland has built temporary structures and luxury chalets that add 15,000 seats, bringing the total to around 23,000 seats.

To encourage Breeders’ Cup to select Keeneland and return to Kentucky in the future, Gov. Beshear suspended the pari-mutuel tax on wagering at live races at Keeneland, a customary incentive offered by hosting locations. When the Breeders’ Cup was last held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, the total was estimated at $750,000, a small amount compared to the economic impact and additional economic activity and revenues the Breeders’ Cup will bring to Kentucky.

This substantial influx of visitors to Lexington is excellent news for our local economy. Visitors will be staying in our hotels, dining at locally owned restaurants, purchasing souvenirs, supporting the arts, touring horse farms, and learning more about Lexington everyday, helping to build and spread our reputation as a city with a vibrant culture, thriving businesses, and first class horses.

Speaking of horses, the contestants in the Breeders’ Cup are the best of the best, but two in particular stand out: American Pharoah and Beholder, both Lexingtonians in their early years. American Pharoah was born at Stockplace Farms in Lexington and lived in the Bluegrass Region for the first year of his life, and Beholder was bred by the Clarkland Farm in Lexington. Unfortunately, Beholder withdrew from the race on Thursday due to irritated lungs. Commerce Lexington wishes her a speedy recovery.

The Bluegrass Region and Lexington produce the best horses in the world. Of the 12 Triple Crown winners, five were born in Lexington and four were born elsewhere in the Bluegrass Region. Additionally, Kentucky has produced more Kentucky Derby Winners than any other state — 107 winners, or 77% were born in Kentucky, followed most closely by Florida with 6 horses.

Lexington’s horse industry and world-class Thoroughbred farms make Lexington an ideal location for the Breeders’ Cup. Beyond attending the races at the beautiful and historic Keeneland, visitors can truly experience every aspect of the horse industry by touring horse farms, attending farm events, touring the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse, and seeing the birthplaces of Triple Crown winners like Sir Barton, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation, and American Pharoah.

Next Week — More about Lexington’s horse industry! 

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!