How Kentucky Can Reimagine Industrial Sectors Through Economic Freedom

Nate Morris

If you ask most people in business or finance, they will tell you that the major innovations and economic opportunities are limited to the coasts. That is a remarkably myopic viewpoint and one that sells the Heartland of America — and Kentucky — far too short. 

I believe that Kentucky is an outstanding place for entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to start or grow their companies, and it could be even better. The commonwealth offers tremendous benefits to companies that establish their base here. My strong belief in Kentucky is evidenced by the opening of Rubicon’s new headquarters at Lexington City Center, and we hope that other organizations follow suit.

Many organizations have already. Sprocket recently announced an innovation hub in Paducah, Novelis announced a $365 million recycling center in Guthrie, and overall, Kentucky saw a 21% increase in new business creation in the past year, with 52,774 new businesses created. 

We are seeing the reemergence of the heartland as a driver of business and innovation. Economic freedom means business leaders are free to choose solutions that make financial sense for their businesses. Over and over, more business leaders are choosing to invest in the American Heartland. 

How do we invigorate that drive here in Kentucky, where growth has been half as fast as neighboring Tennessee and workforce participation has declined for decades? Tax reform will help. Lowering our commonwealth’s notoriously high income tax and targeting tax relief for Kentuckians making $100,000 or less per year will drive innovation, spur the economy and encourage more of our Kentucky-born sons and daughters to stay in the commonwealth, innovate in the commonwealth, and grow the commonwealth with their big ideas. 

Take the current supply chain challenges. The global computer chip shortage has led Intel to invest $20 billion in a new chip factory in Ohio. Hopefully, this move will create jobs in Ohio, lead to further investment in the heartland, and address a real challenge facing businesses today. 

Why Ohio and not Kentucky? You would have to ask Intel, but one reason might be that they recently lowered their income taxes. Ohio has also focused on education and workforce development — efforts Kentucky would do well to emulate.

Intel was a missed opportunity for Kentucky. We need to raise the bar. The goal should not be to be on par with Ohio or Tennessee but to surpass them. That means strong leadership and a vision for the future.

Kentucky is poised to take on the 21st-century challenge of reimagining industrial sectors with economic freedom ideals and technology. Manufacturing is strong in Kentucky, representing more than a fifth of the state’s overall gross domestic product. Its position in the center of the nation has made it a perfect place for hubs of logistics companies like UPS and Amazon.

At Rubicon, we proudly chose our home state of Kentucky as the base of our global operations, where we are using software and technology to transform the waste and recycling industry. Given the state’s geographically central location and that Kentucky is Rubicon’s birthplace, it was the most natural choice. In addition, this move is a signal to our customers, partners, and employees that we are committed to supporting the economic growth of communities everywhere, not only by what we do as a company but by where we choose to operate. 

World-changing ideas can come from anywhere, and fostering innovation is the central tradition of American business. The American free market is the greatest driver of innovation in the history of the world. There is no reason why our tradition of leadership cannot continue – and expand – in the 21st century.

In expanding our Kentucky presence with our new global headquarters, we are committed to leading on that front both from a business and philanthropic presence. I trust we will not be alone. 

Nate Morris is the Chairman & CEO of Lexington-based Rubicon and the chairman of the Concordia Lexington Summit planned for April 2022 to create partnerships that address drivers of division and improve economic empowerment for all.

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