Op-Ed for Courier Journal
Governor Paul Patton
August 28, 2002

As Louisville moves toward merger, it is critical that the region work to implement a stronger economic future as set forward in the recommendations of the Brookings Institution report “Beyond Merger: A Competitive Vision for the Regional City of Louisville”.   As Governor, I am pleased that the state has taken steps in recent years that will provide Louisville the tools to successfully implement many of the report’s recommendations.  

Particularly in the area of education, and its vital linkage to the new economy, the state has provided the foundation Louisville must have to build a successful future.  Building on the KERA reforms implemented in the early 90’s, our administration addressed postsecondary education reform with the historic Postsecondary Improvement Act of 1997.  And that initiative is beginning to show dramatic results.  As of last fall, 25,000 more students were enrolled than at the time of the reforms and  the Community and Technical College System alone had increased enrollment by nearly 40%.   This year’s fall enrollment promises to show additional increases across the state. 

The Brookings report calls for the need to expand the role of higher education in workforce development, and we had a similiar goal as part of our 1997 reforms.  We hoped to create a community and technical college system that was more responsive to regional economic needs and workforce priorities.  You have only to look right here in Louisville to see the success of those efforts.  There is no more innovative model in the nation than the Metropolitan College, which I challenged our public higher education entities in Jefferson County to create as a response to the needs of UPS when that company was considering their hub expansion in Louisville.   The innovative collaboration that has led to over 1900 students currently enrolled in the Metropolitan College can be emulated as the region charts its future. 

The report cites a low level of university research and other “knowledge deficits” as part of the reason Louisville ranks 37th out of the 50 largest metropolitan regions for its overall workforce education.  That statistic is clearly in the process of changing.  Our 1997 postsecondary initiative created the Research Challenge Trust Fund, known as “Bucks for Brains”, to support nationally recognized research programs at the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and our regional institutions. The ability to attract and retain top-notch scientists and engineers through Bucks for Brains has given Kentucky the competitive edge it must have in order to build the research infrastructure vital to future economic growth.  

Bucks for Brains has been a key factor in the University of Louisville’s growth as a research institution.  It matched both biennial rounds of state funding with private donations and increased its total endowment from $183 million to $500 million. The number of endowed chairs at U of L has risen from 25 to 87.  U of L's endowment is now in the top 20 of public universities in the nation and the largest in the state.  Bucks for Brains researchers have brought in over $28 million in extramural funding – each million of which generates more than $4.5 million for local and state economies.  It has encouraged the University of Louisville and Louisville hospitals to invest additional millions to provide the infrastructure needed to complete the package that ultimately lures top researchers.  A continuation of the Bucks for Brains program is vital to Louisville’s ability to upgrade the educational attainment of its homegrown workforce as well as attract the new knowledge-workers from outside.  

The Brookings report calls for making our colleges and universities full partners in the region’s economic development strategy.  Again, the state has laid important groundwork to achieve that goal.  In 2000, we built on our postsecondary reforms with the passage of the Kentucky Innovation Act, legislation that created the Office of the New Economy and the Kentucky Innovation Commission.  This initiative has resulted in the New Economy Strategic Plan unveiled last January, which for the first time in Kentucky formalizes a plan to link our investments in education to our plans for economic development.  

Kentucky’s New Economy Strategic Plan involved hundreds of volunteers and resulted in regional strategies that identify key focus areas to insure Kentucky’s competitiveness in a knowledge-based economy.  In Louisville those focus areas range from biotechnology and human health and development to materials science and manufacturing technologies.    The first specific initiative to receive New Economy funding here will be a Center for Cardiac Assist Devices.  And the Commonwealth has already provided $6 million in funding for the new  Biomedical/Information Technology Incubator. 

I said when I  began my second term as Governor that I have four priorities: education, education, education and education.  In addition to our emphasis on elementary, secondary and postsecondary education, we launched a new Early Childhood initiative targeted to helping our very youngest children reach their full potential.   And in 2000, Kentucky increased funding for adult education dramatically and placed oversight for the program with the Council on Postsecondary Education.   As a result, we have seen over a 57% increase in enrollment in our adult education programs since these changes were enacted and adults receiving their GED’s reached an all time high in 2001. 

And we launched the “Education Pays” public awareness campaign to establish a realization in the mind of every Kentuckian that education pays culturally, sociologically, economically and in many other ways.  The Brookings report echoes this philosophy and ties education to Louisville’s potential to become a model, progressive city.  

Louisville has long been the engine that drives Kentucky’s economy.   Now, the Metro Louisville/Jefferson Merged Government has the potential to become the model by which other regions create opportunities necessary for full participation in the new knowledge-based economy.  The challenges are great but the rewards are even greater.  We have in place the foundation upon which Louisville, with foresight and collaboration, can build the thriving, progressive, and dynamic metropolitan area that will be vital to Kentucky’s success in this new century.