LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Humana, Louisville's biggest white-collar employer, doesn't provide enough support to local entrepreneurs, according to a new report commissioned by Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce.

"Humana is not involved in the region's health-related business accelerators or startup community," according to the report, released earlier this month as part of GLI's "Advantage Louisville" project.

The report notes Humana sponsors an accelerator program for young health and technology companies in New York City, but not in its corporate headquarters of Louisville:

"For the region to stir up growth and advancements … corporate leadership will need to support regional ventures and opportunities or connect local firms to national accelerator programs they sponsor."

The Humana assertion is just one of dozens of findings in the new "Target Sector Analysis" completed for GLI by Atlanta-based consulting firm Market Street Services, Inc.

It's the latest step in GLI's effort to craft a fresh economic development strategy for the Louisville region through an initiative called Advantage Louisville.

The process is expected to wrap early next year with a report laying out specific recommendations for increasing Louisville's economic prospects.

Humana spokeswoman Kate Marx said the company has offered non-financial resources, such as mentors, to Louisville's two health-related accelerators, XlerateHealth and Innovate LTC.

"We have also been involved with the local start-up community. For instance, we're investors in the Kentucky Seed Capital Fund, and in the past we've sponsored the Louisville Angel Network," she said in an email.

Marx noted that the study also mentions the Humana Foundation's partial funding of the new "big data" degree program at Bellarmine University through its Institute for Advanced Analytics and that "the presence of Humana is the catalyst for developing (innovative) technology as the company is a primary national player in the future of healthcare." 

"In addition to all of that, we have supported an ongoing meeting of the (healthy) minds through the Idea Festival, the Business Journal's Healthiest Employers, and bringing the Institute for the Future to Louisville to talk with our local leaders of health innovation," Marx said.

Key industries

The Target Sector Analysis identifies five key business areas for Louisville:  manufacturing; food and beverage; consumer and business services; health innovation; and logistics and e-commerce. The consultants acknowledge that economic development officials are already focused on these areas.

Among the report's more surprising or interesting findings: 

  • Bourbon tax. While touching on how Kentucky's tax climate is not optimal for business, the report especially takes issue with state's tax on aging barrels of bourbon, mentioning it four separate times. The tax is "burdensome" and a disincentive to expansion of the state's signature bourbon industry, according to the report.


  • Software jobs. Louisville has more people earning software/web developer and computer programming degrees than jobs available for them, "likely forc(ing) graduates in these areas to look to larger metros for employment… the lack of any major software producer in the region prevents Greater Louisville  from being truly competitive, especially as developers look for regions where they there are many potential employers because they tend to only work in one place for a few years at a time."


  • Downtown office vacancies and Nucleus. The report touches on the high rate of empty prime office space downtown and notes that the opening of the eight-story Nucleus building on E. Market Street only adds to the unfilled inventory. Nucleus, a subsidiary of the University of Louisville Foundation, recently signed Atria Senior Living as its main tenant in the new building, which will lead more vacant space at the Brown & Williamson Tower, where Atria will vacate five  floors. "(E)very effort should be made to keep downtown a viable option for businesses," the report says.


  • "Right to work" laws. The report tip-toes around the suggestion that Kentucky's status as a union-friendly state is a disadvantage to landing manufacturing operations, noting that, "The strength and presence of labor unions can impact the desirability of a region to manufacturing operation." Border states including Indiana have adopted "right to work" laws whereby employees cannot be compelled to join unions as a condition of employment at factories and other workplaces. The report notes "right to work" will probably come up in the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly but stops short of specifically endorsing the policy.