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Reflections on 2011 in commonwealth

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By Rick Rand

As we approach the final days of the year and literally wrap up a hectic month of shopping, it’s good to take a moment to reflect on what the past dozen months have brought.

While the times have been tough for far too long now, there have been some encouraging signs that the Commonwealth is getting back on its feet.

The unemployment rate, for example, continues to improve, and many industries, like manufacturing and tourism, have each added thousands of jobs since the last holiday season.  The auto industry is seeing a true resurgence nationally, which is especially good news for Kentucky, since we produce more cars and trucks than all but three states.

Late last month, Forbes magazine noted the progress we’ve made economically when it ranked us 25th among the states in its annual Best States for Business list.  That’s up six spots from a year ago and 19 since 2008.

The news is even better for the agricultural community.  At the Kentucky Farm Bureau meeting several weeks ago, analysts predicted farm sales this year would easily top $5 billion for the first time.  In fact, the total might be as much as a billion dollars more than it was in 2010.

Poultry and corn lead the way, with cattle and horses not far behind.  Altogether, 10 different commodities are on track to generate at least $100 million in sales this year.  That level of diversity points to an even brighter future.

Academically, we continue to see bright spots in the classroom.  Earlier this fall, education officials reported our fourth and eighth graders scored at or above the national average in both reading and writing.  Some of our best success can be found among those students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch; when measuring just their scores, we’re third among the states in reading for both grades and in the top 20 for math.

The number of high school students taking Advanced Placement courses – which count for college credit – has grown by nearly 50 percent since 2007; and the ranks of those scoring at least a three out of a possible five on the final AP tests have grown by 75 percent.

We learned earlier this year that no other state saw a faster increase in adult education enrollment from 2005 to 2009, and a July report by the University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economics Research noted that, over the last 20 years, no state has risen as much as Kentucky did in a nationwide index of education statistics.  We moved up 15 spots during that time.

In sports, the past year has seen Kentucky host its first NASCAR race in the modern era, and we set the benchmark again with our record eighth Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs.  In the area of personal recognition, we saw one Kentuckian receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and another receive the National Book Award for poetry.

Those are just a few of the presents that have been placed under our tree in 2011.  More undoubtedly will be added when we herald in the new year in little more than a week.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to get in the Christmas spirit, there are numerous activities both here at home and across the Commonwealth.  One of the more interesting sites is the Mega Cavern’s Lights Under Louisville, which lets you drive your vehicle underneath the city to tour what is billed as the world’s only underground holiday light show.

In the coming weeks, I will discuss what is taking place during the upcoming legislative session, but for now, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a merry Christmas and hope that 2012 is your best year yet.