KY Chamber Day goes virtual, discusses moving forward with economic development amid pandemic

Kentucky chamber day virtual event
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 11:21 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - On Thursday, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual ‘Kentucky Chamber Day’ event, but this year is was virtual.

“We look forward to hopefully holding an in person version of this event later in the year and are happy to bring you remarks from the state’s top leaders as the legislature is in full swing,” Winston Griffin, Chairman of the KY Chamber Board and CEO of Laurel Grocery Company said.

Every year, Chamber Day is an opportunity for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to share their accomplishments and vision for economic development with the state with top Kentucky legislative leaders, as well as hear the priorities of those in Kentucky’s legislature. 2021 is different than any other year, as the discussions were focused around reviving an economy slashed by a global pandemic.

“For as long as I’ve been around Chamber Day has been a staple of each legislative session, the biggest annual gathering of businesses and government leaders in Kentucky,” President and CEO of Kentucky’s Chamber of Commerce Ashli Watts said.

Watts pointed out some of the challenges Kentucky businesses are currently facing, " 177,000 people are not in the workforce that we’re in there in February of 2020. And over the past nine months, Kentucky dropped to 50th in workforce participation rankings. With the first wave of Kentucky and starting to be vaccinated, hope is on the horizon, but there is much work to be done,” Watts explained.

She emphasized the need for more investments in infrastructure in the state, paying back unemployment loans to the federal government and keeping historic horse racing as part of the state’s identity.

“Investing in our infrastructure is the single best thing the legislature can do to truly grow and invest or economic recovery, and we cannot afford to wait,” Watts said.

Kentucky House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins and Senate Minority leader Morgan McGarvey also spoke at the event, discussing what they would like to see accomplished this legislative session.

“The first place to begin addressing our challenges is in the budget,” McGarvey explained. “We need to make investments in public health and mental health, small business relief funds and unemployment.”

Kentucky Speaker of the House David Osborne was next to speak. He talked about the state’s budget as well, reminiscing on where Kentucky was before the pandemic, versus now.

“Kentucky has regained about two thirds of the jobs that we lost in the pandemic but still have 90,000 fewer jobs than in March of last year,” Osborne said.

While remaining optimistic about the future, Osborne said they are continuing to look at COVID-19 relief measures along with liability protections for businesses. Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, who also gave a speech at the event, said they are keeping their eyes on a more conservative budget.

“As we have moved forward in discussions, we want to make sure we’re very cautious in what we do, that we’re conservative in what we do, that we pass policies that aid and assist us to create better economic opportunity in the state,” Stivers said.

He mentioned that the state of the economy, and returning to ‘normalcy’ is dependent on how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are.

“That shot and the efficacy of that shot will determine how our economy will move forward,” Stivers said. “So that’s why we’re being cautious about how we proceed with our budget. And we don’t want to do things that may impede a return to normalcy.”

Kentucky Andy Beshear was the final speaker on Chamber Day. After talking about the state’s response to COVID-19, and thanking businesses for doing their part to keep their employees safe, Gov. Beshear brought up his budget plan as well which proposes more bold investments and relief for Kentucky businesses.

“We are on the cusp of new economic era. Businesses and other states see it and they are planning and investing knowing a new economy is in front of us. We here in Kentucky have to do the same to be competitive,” Beshear said. “Failure to act now, failure to make investments, failure to see the future and meet it would be fumbling this once-in-a-generation opportunity to leap forward ahead of other states and lead in this post-COVID economy.”

Gov. Beshear also vowed to use funds to pay back the large federal loan the state has taken out to replenish its unemployment insurance trust fund.

The General Assembly will continue to meet this week. Meanwhile, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is celebrating being around for 75 years.

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