Smiley Pete: BizLex Q&A: Ken Troske

Economist Ken Troske is in the business of untangling complex webs of information — sometimes seemingly conflicting — and providing context while identifying prevailing trends.

As a member of the Congressional Oversight Panel, he helped assess the condition of America’s financial markets and its regulatory system. As a researcher, he is particularly interested in how the labor market and human resources affect the economy. And, as a professor at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business, he teaches the next generation of business leaders to think more critically about these issues.

We spoke with Troske to better understand how national labor trends impact Kentucky.

How does Central Kentucky compare to the national trends? What are some points of differentiation?

Central Kentucky and Kentucky do tend to move and change similar to the rest of the country. We’re primarily a manufacturing state, which has been true for a long time. Our largest industry is the auto industry, particularly the auto parts industry.

We have three major auto manufacturers in the state: GM, Ford and Toyota. But more importantly, we have a lot of businesses in this area that make parts for those folks and other manufactures around the region.

We also have a lot of aerospace and production of various parts of planes and things like that. We tend to be a manufacturing economy, so we’re going to grow and contract based on the performance of those industries and the broader economy as a whole.

We continue to struggle with the fact that we are below average in education attainment — I think we still rank 45th nationwide in the percentage of adults with a college degree. We’re in the bottom five states in the country in household income. We’re below average in labor force participation rates.

As a result, we tend to be heavily focused on the production aspects of manufacturing rather than on engineering or development.

The Ford announcement is very consistent with that. We are going to be manufacturing batteries here. Okay, that’s great, but we’re not doing the R&D behind the batteries. We’re not doing anything else. We’re doing the manufacturing component, just like we’ve always done.

The New York Times reported that more people voluntarily left their jobs last September than at any point in modern history. What do you make of that?