After an election season in which both major political parties bashed free trade deals, the mayors of Kentucky’s two largest cities have renewed their initiative to attract foreign investment to — and exports from — the region.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Lexington and Louisville need to join forces to be relevant on the global stage.
“We need to work together so we can present a unified force to the world that would allow us to better compete together for our whole state,” Fischer said during a news conference on Monday.
Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray formed the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) in 2011 to help create more international opportunities for businesses in a 22 county area around the cities.
On Monday, the mayors announced a plan to attract and retain companies that command higher wages, like those in the chemical, life science, software and IT industries, and create more workforce training programs like Code Louisville and Awesome Inc. in Lexington.
They also called for building on historically strong relationships with Japanese and German companies that invest in the state.
Fischer said there is “some question” about how President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will change the trade landscape, but said the region needed to continue to pursue opportunities across borders.
“Frankly, I’m not sure any of us know right now,” Fischer said. “So we’ll just kind of keep the course, keep making good quality products, have high productivity and I think the future will take care of itself.”
Trump campaigned on scrapping and renegotiating U.S. trade agreements like NAFTA, which includes Canada and Mexico, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would create a free trade area spanning 12 countries from China to Chile.
Trump claims that the agreements hurt American workers because labor is cheaper in less wealthy countries like Mexico, China and Malaysia.
Brookings Institution fellow Marek Gootman said despite the debate over free trade agreements, the world is hurdling towards a global economy
“This trend toward urbanization, increased middle class around the world, additional markets and globalization will continue in some fashion,” Gootman said. “It’s really a question of whether city-regions and the firms in them are effectively positioned to take advantage of this trend, or whether they will be taken advantage of.”
Gootman said 39 percent of all global GDP is attributed to sales of goods, services and capital across borders.
The BEAM project was accepted into the Global Cities Initiative, a larger project by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase to help local economies take hold in the global market.
JP Morgan Chase also announced Monday that it would award the BEAM initiative a $220,000 grant to increase exports and foreign investments in the region.