Finding the perfect spot to relocate a business is not always an easy task, except when dealing with the City of Lexington in central Kentucky. This unique place is run by people who have secured a great future for this up-and-coming new technology hub of the south.
The merged city-county of Lexington is not only famous for being the world’s equestrian capital and the birthplace of bourbon but also for its vibrant central business district that contrasts with the beautiful rural landscape that surrounds it. No matter where one finds oneself in its downtown area, you are never more than ten minutes’ drive away from the impressive stud farms for which Lexington is known.
With this unique setting, the city lends itself perfectly toward blending technology with agriculture. And, this winning combination is set to determine the city’s future in several ways. Agriculture technology businesses are flocking here, and the region will be contributing significantly to an agricultural industry that produces products like poultry, hemp, and much more.
The city is home to the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, and the Bluegrass Community and Technical College. The region’s millennial population has cemented Lexington’s reputation as one of the best-educated cities in the country. Naturally, this translates into a particularly well-rounded and capable workforce with much to contribute to the city’s growth in terms of knowledge, innovation, and academic capital.
This is an advanced, urban community where global Fortune 500 giants like Valvoline, Clark Material Handling, Florida Tile, Big Ass Fans, LexMark, Alltech, and Tempur Sealy have all chosen to base their headquarters. It is anchor companies such as these that have made the city a magnet for talented and creative minds from across the technology sector.
We spoke with Mayor Linda Gorton and Chief Development Officer Kevin Atkins to learn more about the innovative future that is driving this people-centered city forward. It has a $379 million general fund budget and employs three thousand people, including its skilled leadership and economic development team. Its leadership style is collaborative, valuing partnerships throughout the state and beyond.
These relationships create a dynamic trade and industry environment where new and established businesses can flourish. The city also works in partnership with Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development in aid of the Kentucky Business Investment (KBI) program. Generous business incentives like tax relief assure its economic prosperity. With its aspirations solidly set on becoming one of America’s largest gigabit cities, its rapidly-expanding technology industry has especially benefitted from the Lexington Jobs Fund that supplies low-interest loans.
To become a leader in the agriculture technology market, the City of Lexington has partnered with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Kentucky’s land grant institution, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and global ag-tech corporate partners such as Alltech. It has earmarked an additional 250 acres of land adjacent to the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Research Campus which are available for businesses that work in this field. Of these, fifty parcels are shovel-ready.
The land was secured as a result of a remarkable land exchange between the city and the university. Although the transaction was worth $30 million, no money exchanged hands. In return for the industrial land, the city parted with parts of streets that will be ‘pedestrianized’ by the university to improve student safety and convenience.
The land swap has been described as “a win-win situation for both the city and the university,” says Mayor Gorton. The exchange has been nominated for an award offered by the University Economic Development Association.
The city’s safety is part of its attraction as this is one of the safest places in the country. Half of its annual general fund budget and much planning and resources are spent on guaranteeing public safety so that its communities can function and flourish.
In addition to safety, cultural diversity is important here. As the first city to have passed a fairness ordinance to ban discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation, Lexington stands as a shining beacon for cultural tolerance and the celebration of its people’s differences.
Lauded as the ‘Athens of the West’ in the nineteenth century, Lexington has always been a haven for the arts. Thanks to its cultural diversity and a healthy public arts fund, its arts scene is alive and well with Broadway touring productions, the Lexington Ballet Company, and the Lexington Philharmonic orchestra at the historic Lexington Opera House hosting local, national, and international talent.
The University of Kentucky also offers an opera program, respected around the globe for training some of the best voices in the United States. According to LexArts – the city’s arts advocate – the arts employ over one thousand people full-time.
Entertainment venues like restaurants and live concerts are also popular, with some offering a laid-back array of bands that entertain weekend audiences outdoors. People can explore one hundred parks, and there are many other opportunities for discovering the region. Locals especially enjoy supporting university athletics as well as thoroughbred racing, held in month-long race meets in April and October each year at Keeneland race track, which has a National Historic Landmark designation.
Lexington was founded by William McConnell and a group of frontiersmen one year before the Declaration of Independence would be signed in 1775. One cannot help but admire the foresight of the people who shaped the history of this city. As the first city to have secured its boundaries early in its development, Lexington’s agricultural land and horse farms are protected from urban expansion, with no threat of real estate development impeding on some of the world’s oldest and most illustrious stud farms.
This is a merged city-county, with the Kentucky River running along its southern border. Therefore, it is not just its agricultural roots that make the city a joy for those who work with or appreciate nature. Locals can also appreciate Kentucky’s natural beauty with its many pristine lakes and the Appalachian Mountains that are not far from the city.
The city is always evolving and improving as a consistent average of around thirty thousand people arrive here during each census period. It is especially favored for its quality of life, reasonable cost of living, and for being exceptionally business-friendly, a characteristic to be further enhanced by fiber internet being installed at the time of writing.
There is also a new industrial park development next to the University of Kentucky’s Coldstream Research Park. Another recent addition is the Town Branch Commons which consists of a brand new ten-acre park which combines a pedestrian and cycling trail that forms a continuous, twenty-two-mile corridor between the city’s downtown area and its surrounding countryside. This connects to two older trails, lending interest to the park. The project was privately funded, with some of the money made available by a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the US Department of Transportation.
The city’s Lexington Centre hosts the Rupp Arena, which was given a new lease on life with a major overhaul and modernization so the arena can continue offering everything from international music events to sports events in style. This civic and convention center expansion cost around $200 million – the largest of its kind to date in the city – and is a great source of pride for its people.
As it is situated on the merging of interstates 75 and 64, getting around is easy. The Lexington Bluegrass Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport and Louisville Muhammad Ali Airport are also reachable within an hours’ drive from Lexington, and there is easy access to Cincinnati in the north and Louisville in the west.
UPS is conveniently situated with its ground hub in Lexington and its global airport in Louisville, around one hour and twenty minutes away. The railroads also present a strong presence with the RJ Corman Railroad Group and others offering reliable freight services to and from the rest of the country.
The city’s health system has also been growing in the past few years, providing most of Eastern Kentucky with medical treatment and services. There is no shortage of hospitals offering quality medical care for people living in Georgetown, Richmond, Versailles, Winchester, and Frankfort. Lexington is also home to the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute facility, and the University of Kentucky Pharmacy College is rated as one of the top institutions of its kind in the United States.
Part of the city’s commitment to intelligent infrastructure and healthy communities involves taking care of its economically vulnerable citizens. It has made an affordable housing fund available while its Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention coordinates planning and provides information. As a result, the city has reached its goal of having no more homeless veterans.
Lexington also assigns an annual fund that supports the work of around thirty-five social service agencies in and around the region, and it is not just the people of the city who benefit from its well-run social services; animals are also cared for.
Workforce development continues to take priority here with the RecruitLex initiative to recruit top talent taking center stage. Part of this effort has seen several non-profit partnerships collaborating with the city to facilitate training across multiple industries from construction to healthcare. Its efforts also aim to improve life for those affected by the opioid crisis by introducing employability and development strategies in collaboration with Madison and Scott counties and the Kentucky Department of Education and Workforce Development.
With solid technological, educational, and business strategies in place, the City of Lexington’s future is as promising as its rise on the high-tech agriculture horizon is fast. This, combined with the number of technology companies interested in investing in the city, will no doubt make its goal of becoming ‘one of the largest gigabit cities in the country’ a reality much sooner than expected.
In true Lexington style, the city is not only out to gain success for itself. Regional partnerships will allow it to support and stimulate the greater economy to benefit the entire central Kentucky area. Add that to the fact that Lexington’s communities are so friendly that many folks have been known to come here for short periods and end up staying for a lifetime, and you have a gigabit boomtown in the making.