Horses are a billion-dollar industry in the Bluegrass Country. Home to more than 450 horse farms, Lexington is surrounded by the greatest concentration of thoroughbred horse farms in the world. Rich limestone soil, lush grasses, and a moderate climate combine to create an ideal spot for the raising, breeding, and training of horses. The Bluegrass Country is the birthplace of the state's native breed—the American Saddlebred—and a center for the breeding of the Standardbred.
While horse breeding is the area's big business, horse racing is probably its claim to fame. The local economy greatly benefits from tourists who come from around the world in large numbers. Keeneland Race Course and the Red Mile attract horse-lovers, experts, and gamblers from around the world. Kentucky Horse Park, a 1,032-acre park built on a former thoroughbred stud farm, is a major attraction.
Agriculture also benefits from the mineral-rich land. Kentucky is the leading producer of burley tobacco in the United States, with Lexington-Fayette County producing the largest crop. Corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, wheat, and barley are also produced in the area, and Lexington is a major market for beef cattle as well. The Lexington metropolitan area exports more than $2.5 billion worth of goods and services annually; in addition to agricultural products, major exports include cars and printers.
The University of Kentucky, located in Lexington, is a center for educational conferences and sports attractions and is one of the Lexington area's major employers. The University provides local businesses and corporations with a ready supply of educated manpower and its considerable resources for problem solving and research. The school was established in 1865 as a flagship for agricultural research and development, and it owns 2,400 acres of land throughout the Bluegrass Country that is still used for that purpose.
But while the city and state of Kentucky fervently protect and promote the region's strong agricultural and horse-country identity, they also are making attempts to keep pace with economic trends. In the decade covering 1995 through 2005, Lexington has emerged as one of a handful of leading American cities in economic growth. Entrepreneur magazine recently named the city one of the top five in the southeast for small-business start-ups. Forbes magazine recognized Lexington as the 14th best place for business and careers in 2003; in 2004 the magazine named Lexington as the 9th best place in America for business. This reflects a concerted effort to diversify the area's economy toward more manufacturing and high-technology ventures. More than 100 major companies have located headquarters or facilities in Lexington. Toyota's multimillion-dollar assembly plant just north of Lexington employs close to 7,500 workers. Lexmark International, a Fortune 500 company, is the city's largest employer (6,784 people).
More than two dozen national organizations—medical, research, scholarly and business—make Lexington their home base. Industry analysts forecast continued progress for Lexington, targeting the area for both population growth and economic development into the 21st century. They predict particular strides in the areas of finance, insurance, and real estate, while community leaders continue to encourage the growth of high technology industries and planning marketing strategies to capitalize on tourism.
Paper products, air conditioning heating equipment, electric typewriters and computer printers, metal products, bourbon whiskey, industrial valves, peanut butter, furniture, feed, tobacco products, equine-related products, automobiles, construction equipment.