LEXINGTON, Ky. – Business leaders from across the Commonwealth have determined their priorities for the upcoming 30-day session of the Kentucky Legislature that convenes Jan. 5 , 2021.

What You Need To Know

  • Chamber leaders urge recovery from pandemic-related struggles

  • Infrastructure requests include broadband expansion

  • Unemployment insurance fund has been depleted

  • Workforce development also among top priorities

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Ashli Watts, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Brent Cooper, Greater Louisville Inc. President Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, and Commerce Lexington President Bob Quick issued a joint press release announcing their agenda, which focuses on jobs, economic recovery, and overall relief for businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues taking its toll on the private sector. 

“2020 has been a year like no other, filled with unprecedented challenges and continued uncertainty,” according to the press release. “As we entered this new decade, Kentucky’s economy was growing, unemployment was low, and our workforce participation was rising. This growth ended when COVID-19 hit, and businesses were forced to close, scale back, and retool their operations to protect Kentuckians by stopping the spread of the virus.”

The business leaders urge Kentucky lawmakers to make economic recovery and business relief a priority during the session in addition to the other vital issues the legislature is faced with, which includes drafting a budget. 

The top item on the business leaders’ agenda is unemployment insurance. Unemployment numbers increased in Kentucky during the pandemic as a result of “mandated closures and additional regulations,” according to the press release, with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (UI) balance going from $618 million before the pandemic to zero. 

“We are grateful Gov. Beshear has committed to allocate a portion of federal CARES Act dollars to the UI fund to begin paying back a federal loan of more than $800 million used to pay benefits,” according to the press release. “The funds will give much-needed relief to Kentucky employers. However, more support is required. We encourage the General Assembly to look at structural reforms to the UI system to minimize the cost to Kentucky businesses while protecting this vital support for employees.”

The group is also asking for limited, targeted liability protections to ensure a swift economic recovery and prevent businesses, schools, and others from suffering due to frivolous lawsuits.

“Employers throughout the state answered the call to protect Kentuckians by closing their doors or significantly reducing operations, and now is the time for the state to protect them as they strive to restart the economy while recovery from this crisis is still underway,” according to the press release.

Kentucky’s infrastructure, including broadband, is also one of the business leaders’ top priorities. Partly because of the pandemic, Kentucky’s road fund lost $74.6 million compared to the previous fiscal year. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) has stated it needs an additional $500 million per year to maintain and improve Kentucky’s roadways and another $200 million per year to maintain and replace deteriorating bridge structures. The group said the recent closure of the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky, which transports 3% of the nation’s gross domestic product daily, is proof the state is at a “tipping point” where increased investment is crucial.

“One of the best ways to invest in Kentucky’s economy and get people back to work is to invest in our infrastructure. As a state heavily dependent on manufacturing, we are quickly becoming a logistics hub. That is why we must invest in our infrastructure assets to recover and come back stronger than before,” according to the press release. “The COVID-19 crisis has also made clear that broadband infrastructure is critical to economic development. It is imperative that state leaders ensure all businesses and homes have access to adequate, high-speed internet for remote learning and work. We encourage legislators to look to the future and invest in Kentucky’s infrastructure to support a growing economy and job creation.”

The group’s final priority is education and workforce development, saying the General Assembly has taken great strides to address the workforce challenges faced by Kentucky employers by investing in education and removing barriers to work. The group encourages lawmakers to ensure the momentum continues in 2021.

“Despite the uncertainty surrounding the state budget and revenue projections, lawmakers must prioritize investment in all education levels,” according to the press release. “Looking ahead, students and educators will need more support than ever to overcome the learning challenges brought on by the pandemic. Lawmakers must also support critical workforce training initiatives, such as the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program, and remove barriers to work by funding substance use disorder treatment and stabilizing and expanding Kentucky’s child care sector. It is imperative employers have the tools they need to rebuild successfully to continue creating jobs for our citizens.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher hosted an online meeting with the Louisville Independent Business Alliance Wednesday, Dec. 9, and encouraged people to shop at locally owned small businesses to offset slumping sales numbers related to the pandemic. Fisher said overall revenue for small businesses in Louisville is down 26% from January of this year, according to statistics from the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, which is comprised of a team of researchers and policy analysts at Harvard University that analyzes data to create a platform for local stakeholders. 

“Just as we’ve come together to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we’ve got to do the same to support our locally owned small businesses,” Fisher said. “Every one of them needs our dollars and support. They are critical to our local economy."

Fisher said the Lousiville Metro Government has given $27.1 million to 824 area small businesses through its Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund

Opportunity Insights shows overall spending in Kentucky is down 8.3%; down 8.1% in Fayette County; and down 15.7% in Jefferson County compared to 2020.