It was a fitting irony that last week, within two days of the announcement that UPS will spend $1 billion to expand its international operations at Louisville, Toyota of Georgetown celebrated its 20th anniversary building automobiles in Kentucky.
A lot has happened in this state since 1986, when then-Gov. Martha Layne Collins convinced Toyota to build its first American automobile plant in Scott County. It perhaps was a more difficult selling job for Collins to convince reluctant legislators and many in the public that the high-paying jobs the Toyota plant would bring were worth hundreds of millions of tax dollars in incentives.
Those incentives were to create 3,000 jobs at the Georgetown plant to turn out 200,000 cars a year. Today Toyota employs 7,000 Kentuckians who manufacture 500,000 vehicles a year.
Twenty years ago, the Louisville airport was still Standiford Field, and if you wanted to fly to Europe, you went first to New York, Chicago or Atlanta. Today you can board a jet in Northern Kentucky at dinnertime and be in Paris for brunch the next day. And Louisville International Airport sends 260 UPS flights a day off to 200 countries around the world. The UPS expansion will add 5,000 full and part-time jobs to the already gigantic package sorting facility at the Louisville airport.
The states incentives to UPS amount only to $51.6 million spread over a number of years.
In many ways, Collins dragged Kentucky into the 20th century only 14 years before that century ended. Toyota showed the world that Kentuckians could fill the tough requirements of modern automotive manufacturing. UPS has demonstrated that a highly sophisticated international package delivery system can be operated successfully out of a mid-sized American city.
What would Kentucky be like today if Toyota had chosen Georgia over Kentucky for its first U.S. plant and UPS had opted for Indianapolis over Louisville for its international hub?
Frankly, we dont want to contemplate the answer.