With the dawning of the new year and a new decade, what better time to take stock of the economic growth and development of our beloved city of Louisville? For the purposes of laying out this “state of the city” in terms of economic achievement, direction, plans and implementation, we consulted with Mayor Greg Fischer and the Mayor’s Office, Greater Louisville Inc., and the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

We need to move faster; and we can always do more. So we’re never ones to sit back and just take a victory lap. We want to keep pushing the city forward, and our citizens deserve that. That’s what you’ve got to do to really compete. What I want everybody in Louisville thinking is we can compete with any city in the country, and we can beat them. We may not be the biggest, but pound-for-pound we should be the best.

This is also the perfect opportunity to take the pulse of the physical health and wellness of Louisville citizens. To that end, we looked into some Kentucky Derby Festival events that could serve as inspiration and a springboard for getting or staying in shape in 2020.

“The overall word I would say is, we’re flourishing,” says Mayor Greg Fischer. In the last decade the city of Louisville has added 83,000 new jobs and over 3,000 new businesses. Since 2014, the city has added more than $14 billion dollars in capital investment, about $1 billion of which has been invested in the west end of Louisville. From Beecher Terrace in the Russell neighborhood to the Norton Sports Health Athletics & Learning Complex to the new YMCA of Greater Louisville at 18th & Broadway, these investments will serve as a catalyst for additional projects and show the commitment of the city and the Louisville Urban League to revitalizing a long-underserved area.

Tourism in Louisville has added so much to the local economy through “bourbonism” and its year-round impact, resulting in an explosion of the hospitality and hotel industries here. As the mayor characterizes it, “We punch way above our weight in hospitality; and the good news is that those are all four and five-star experiences, so we just see really high rates of satisfaction from our tourists.” Rebecca Matheny, Executive Director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership, agrees with how vital hotels, restaurants, and bars are to continuing the downtown Louisville renaissance. She points out that these, along with the ongoing success of the newly redeveloped Kentucky International Convention Center, “do not exist in a vacuum. They all work together.” Rebecca emphasizes the importance of ensuring that these and other street-level businesses are enjoyed responsibly and contribute positively to a downtown that feels clean, fun, and safe for families, as well as the nightlife crowd.

Louisville’s employment outlook remains strong. “This year marked our ninth consecutive year of job growth since The Great Recession,” says the mayor. “We’ve seen 19% GDP growth versus 15% for the entire country. Unemployment stays low; and the two sectors that are leading our job growth are tech industry and advanced manufacturing.”

Deana Epperly Karem, Senior Vice President of Economic Growth for Greater Louisville Inc., explains that these two sectors are also intertwined. “Technology and innovation are causing disruption in manufacturing in the best way.” Improvements in efficiency, safety, and lessening impacts on the environment are important for a healthy future in big business. And with an emerging startup culture and density in NuLu particularly, Louisville is poised to help lead the way.

Greater Louisville, Inc. is a private, nonprofit, “independent organization that serves as the Metro Chamber of Commerce and economic development leader for the Greater Louisville region.” This region includes not only Louisville and Jeffersontown, but also southern Indiana, and 15 surrounding counties. GLI works to attract businesses large and small, aiding them in site selection, workforce, data, resources, incentives eligibility, introduction facilitation, and more. GLI has a three-part strategy for building big business and the technology sector in the region in 2020. They intend to continue to connect subject matter experts in the industries to pitch their economic development strategies. For three years, their Live in Lou initiative has marketed and promoted Greater Louisville to talented professionals from all over the country, with great momentum around the online toolkit Finally, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office and TEConomy Partners of Columbus, Ohio, GLI is taking a deep dive into a study of our current and future innovation economy, focusing on economic development and informed public policy.

As Louisville upscales in the areas of technology and big business, with announcements such as the Microsoft regional artificial intelligence hub and Future of Work initiative, so does it seek to “upskill” its workforce. This is important to offset those traditional manufacturing jobs that may be lost to automation. To shore up the foundation for education and job training and attract and retain a skilled workforce, the city must continue to make investments in affordable, stable housing, the completion of our regional library system, and the continued development of built environments and “edge neighborhoods” such as the new soccer stadium district, Butchertown, Paristown Pointe, NuLu, Portland, and Russell.

The Mayor’s Office and Louisville Forward seek to integrate their to economic and community development “by combining business attraction, expansion and retention activities, and talent and workforce attraction, with all of the city's real estate development, land use and planning and design functions to present a unified solution for job growth and quality of place.” Their focus is on five business clusters: Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Food and Beverage, Lifelong Wellness and Aging Care, and Logistics and Ecommerce. “Those are five areas where we think we're either the best in the world or can be the best in the world.” The mayor goes on to say, “So we have workforce development strategies in each of those clusters.”

With regard to real estate development, land use, city planning, and public spaces, these are what give the city and the region character. Whether it is Class A office space occupancy, our beautiful Olmsted-designed parks system, or landscaping and art installations, this attention to our physical surroundings contributes to a safer and more positive environment for natives, citizens, and tourists alike. These along with our thriving arts communities and institutions with dynamic leaders make up the soul of the city and add to its authenticity, diversity, and inclusion.

The mayor wanted to be sure to include our chefs and culinary arts in this category. “They work with each other. They’re not primadonnas. They’re all kind of elevating each other’s performance.” Looking at the month of September alone, with major events such as WorldFest, TRIFESTA (Hometown Rising, Bourbon & Beyond, Louder Than Life), and culminating in the St. James Court Art Show the first weekend in October, Louisville truly shines as a destination for culture.

The biggest celebration of all remains the Kentucky Derby Festival. This is where we turned for a discussion of the physical health and wellness of our citizens. Tara Jo Thomas is an Ambassador for the miniMarathon/Marathon/Relay. She describes herself as a cheerleader for the KDF races as she not only spreads the word about her personal experiences running, but also guides prospective runners through their training programs. Registration for the races opened briefly in the summer and again in September and continues into the spring. The Norton Sports Health Training Program begins in January and supports everyone from novices to experienced marathoners. all with the support of medical professionals. “Kentucky is statistically so unhealthy.” But Tara says that anyone who finds the courage to start and gathers with all the other walkers and/or runners will get “chills at the starting line” and “feel like Louisville is giving (them) a giant hug.” And that as they enter Churchill Downs for a portion of the race it is so inspiring and brings to mind the athleticism of the amazing horses that run there.

Similarly, the KDF Tour de Lou helps get the city moving. Andy Murphy, President of the Louisville Bicycle Club, believes “We’ve got to get people up off the couch!” He also encourages beginners to join the more seasoned cyclists. The Tour de Lou has 20, 35, and 62.1371 (100km metric century) mile ride options. With all the improvements to biking infrastructure and the parks system, this form of exercise is more accessible and attainable than ever. The training program for Tour de Lou begins Sunday, February 22, 2020 and offers Saturday and Sunday rides for eight weeks leading up to race day. The rides increase by five miles each week. Last year saw over 100 new cyclists show up for the first day.           

The future of the city of Louisville and its citizenry grows brighter every day. This message from our mayor, Greg Fischer, sums it all up: “We need to move faster; and we can always do more. So we’re never ones to sit back and just take a victory lap. We want to keep pushing the city forward, and our citizens deserve that. That’s what you’ve got to do to really compete. What I want everybody in Louisville thinking is we can compete with any city in the country, and we can beat them. We may not be the biggest, but pound-for-pound we should be the best.

Posted on 2020-01-06 by By Dawn Anderson | Photos by Danny Alexander