Toyota RAV4 hybrid

Gov. Matt Bevin checks out the RAV4 hybrid SUV that will be made at Toyota's Georgetown, Ky. plant, with plant manager Susan Elkington, right. March 14, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In what Gov. Matt Bevin called another sign of “the momentous economic progress we have achieved in recent years,” the value of Kentucky products shipped overseas grew again last year to a record $31.8 billion.

The Republican Party of Kentucky said Thursday in a tweet that the export figures were another example of the “historic economic growth” enjoyed by the Bluegrass State thanks to GOP policies.

But while Kentucky shipped more in aerospace equipment, cars, trucks and other products made here to other countries, so did the rest of the U.S. and Kentucky’s border states.

In fact, data show that exports in the U.S. as a whole grew at more than twice the rate of Kentucky's last year. U.S. exports reached $1.6 trillion, a 7.6 percent increase from 2017. Kentucky exports grew only 2.9 percent.

Meanwhile, Kentucky was in the middle of the pack among its seven neighboring states, lagging the export growth rates of West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana, according to federal data.

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Jack Mazurak, a spokesman for the economic development cabinet, said the data still show economic progress for Kentucky.

“Compared to the nation we may not be growing as quickly, but compared to our past, to our track record, we are continuing to do excellently,” he said.

Bevin, a Republican, took office in December 2015. Republicans then took total control of state government following the 2016 election and began implementing long-desired economic policies such as the state’s right-to-work law in early 2017.

To be sure, Kentucky has outperformed the U.S. and all neighboring states except Indiana in export growth during the whole of Bevin’s tenure, from 2015 to 2018. Kentucky exports grew 15 percent during that period, compared to 11 percent for the nation as a whole.

“Kentucky’s exports have grown at a faster rate than many surrounding states” in recent years, although it would take more study to determine why, said Michael Clark, an economist at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

But it seems to be the continuation of an even-longer trend. Kentucky’s exports have risen for eight of the last nine years, growing by 80 percent since 2009. That cumulative growth surpasses the nation and all neighboring states.

Kentucky has been one of the states on the forefront of the nation's post-recession manufacturing recovery.

The export data also belie one claim in the press release issued by Bevin’s economic development cabinet, which said Kentucky exports “reached an all-time high for a fourth consecutive year.” 2018 actually marks the third consecutive year of an exports record for Kentucky.

Mazurak acknowledged the error, saying it was because initial government data for 2014 and 2015 were later revised.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.