On my way back from Iraq in 2006 I stopped over at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. That night I went to dinner with a couple of Army guys I had met on the plane. We were all struck by the changes in our circumstances. The day before they had been in Afghanistan and that morning I had been in Iraq. Less than twenty-four hours before that meal all of us had been under fire, breathing the smell of refuse, and sweating from a heat we didn’t imagine could exist.
Now we were sitting in a modern restaurant, sipping whiskey and eating stakes while people laughed and watched TV around us. I have never felt so disoriented in my life; my hand actually reached down to my seat for balance. One of the Army guys saw the motion and said, hey, better watch it there Captain, pointing to my whiskey glass. I just smiled
and said I haven’t drunk it yet. My wife was scheduled to have a C-section in two days, and luckily I made it back in time for the birth of my youngest son before heading back downrange.
Sometimes where you are and where you want to be are worlds apart. Having moved back to my native Kentucky this year, I sense a lot of people feel that way. We are certainly not where we want to be as a state. The prosperous place we want seems impossibly far away. If we try to get there too fast it will just make our heads spin, but the good news is we can get there.
The model is our map; our approach will guide us to our destination. By transforming our state into a national and even global solution engine, we can create a new economic landscape upon which to build a more prosperous future. The effort to assemble resources, build partnerships, and craft policies will attract investment, jobs, and in so doing bring new solutions to our own problems into reach. It starts by using the assets we already have.
Modernizing government is a critical challenge to our nation. In Kentucky we already have innovators working on the problem. Go Madisonville is web-based, smart phone application driven approach to governance in the 21st century and it is delivering results. If you’re tired of waiting weeks for a government form to arrive in the mail, imagine a day when you click on your smartphone and get what you need that day. Private businesses are already doing it. Why not encourage or even incentivize other counties and cities to test and employ similar technologies? The result could not only improve government services and reduce costs in Kentucky, but also provide lessons learned to be used in modernizing the federal government. Reducing redundancy, inefficiencies, and improving the delivery of services from the federal government could save taxpayers billions each year. Not to
mention attracting new software companies and the jobs they bring with them. We can lead it from right here in the Bluegrass state.
Health care is a major challenge for Kentucky and our nation. Across the country there has been a wave of new innovation centers and health care information technology developments designed to eliminate medical errors, waste, and inefficiency that costs this country $700 billion a year. Kentucky has a disproportionately high number of chronically ill people looking for solutions; their demand for change
can drive innovation. Why not create a public-private partnership in the form of a health care innovation center which could synthesize ongoing health care information development efforts by providing a testing ground for companies and their new technologies? Not only is there potential to improve wellness delivery and reduce health care costs, the effort would attract exactly the kind of high-tech, high-paying jobs we are currently seeking. Thank you Dr. Dan, it’s a great idea.
Kentucky is already a leader in the energy industry through coal and gas production. The coal industry has taken some hard hits this year, but it’s gone through similar trials in the past and each time
it came back. There is mounting evidence a new wave of energy exploration and production in the U.S. may be about to begin. In the past extraction of energy resources generated wealth outside the state but much less of it stayed here. We need to learn from the past and not repeat our mistakes. Appalachian Ohio is already using existing development agencies to apply portions of revenue from new extraction efforts to improve education and entrepreneurship in their region. Eastern
Kentucky should learn from its neighbors and think about how it might follow suit. We also have a number of development, education, and service organizations in a good position to reinvest new
wealth. New sources of revenue could also be used to support renewable energy research in
Kentucky is the third largest manufacturer of automobiles in the country. The automobile industry, which accounts for around three percent of our entire gross domestic product, is at the beginning of a
major transformation. The key to success is to anticipate industry demand instead of just responding to it. Autonomous, semi-autonomous, and smart cars will offer drivers an experience in twenty years we can only dream of today. Just this year California legalized driverless cars, a trend industry experts expect to continue. But who will develop the software and technology suites that will deliver those new driving experiences? Kentucky is in a good position to benefit from organizing and supporting innovation efforts. Imagine Kentucky as globally renowned center for cutting edge driving innovation and research. We can do it through partnerships with manufacturers, universities, and communities geared towards attracting investment and research to solve those technical problems. Again this activity will attract and sustain a whole new generation of high-tech, high-paying jobs to our state.
Combining these approaches can put Kentucky on a path to becoming a nation solutions engine and an economic powerhouse. Health care, energy, and the automotive industries alone could triple Kentucky’s economy in twenty years. I’ve taken many trips that were long and difficult, but the reward at the end always made the journey worthwhile. By beginning this journey today we can shape our future into a more prosperous place for our children tomorrow.
Posted by Jason Belcher