Some brief highlights from over 100 years of service.
In the summer of 1911, a group of Louisville-area business leaders gathered to discuss how to address business issues before the state and federal legislatures. First and foremost was a legislative initiative to create workers’ compensation protection for workers in Kentucky. Second was freight rate discrimination – a punitive federal law aimed at damaging companies doing business south of the Ohio River. Other issues included growing concern about government intervention in the economy, banking, tax problems, and social concerns.
Led by Theodore Ahrens, president of Standard Sanitary Corporation in Louisville, and Philip Speed Tuley, president of Louisville Cotton Mills Company, this small group founded the Employers Association of Louisville to lobby business issues. At the same time, they decided to branch out statewide. Ahrens dispatched one of his young executives, Theodore Mueller, on a statewide recruiting trip to build a statewide coalition of business and industry. Mr. Mueller would remain active with the association for another 40 years.
By December 1911, 36 charter companies and 15 charter directors joined together to incorporate the Kentucky Manufacturers and Shippers Association, dedicated to working on problems affecting the business, tax and labor climate in Kentucky. The two associations were incorporated at December meetings in Louisville and Newport.
From the beginning, the KMSA became known as the Commonwealth’s most effective voice on behalf of business and industry, playing a significant role in writing the state’s first workers’ compensation insurance act, which passed into law in 1916 and formed the basis for workers’ compensation insurance in Kentucky until 1987.
By 1916, with World War I raging in Europe and folks showing off their Model T’s, board members decided there was a role for a paid staff and hired Louisville businessman Carl C. “C.C.” Ousley, manager of the Kentucky Print Shop, to run the organization part time out of his shop. In 1917, the name was shortened to Kentucky Manufacturers Association. By 1919, Mr. Ousley took the job full-time; Mr. Ousley would retain the job until 1944, and would remain an advisor to the association into the late 1960s.
As the country adjusted to prohibition and the “roaring twenties” produced positive attitudes and prosperity, the association began to grow rapidly. In 1923, the association aligned itself with the National Association of Manufacturers and its affiliated National Industrial Council (NIC) with its network of 42 state industrial associations. The board voted to change its name to Associated Industries of Kentucky to reflect the new alignment. The association produced at least one weekly state/national legislative bulletin a week, keeping members informed on legislative activities. It also branched out into a small number of member benefits programs, including the forerunner of today’s Kentucky Association of Manufacturers Benefit and Wage Survey.
With the onset of the Depression, the bottom nearly fell out on Associated Industries of Kentucky in the early 1930s. Business took a terrible beating, and Associated Industries of Kentucky’s budget fell to rock bottom. Mr. Ousley and his small staff took 50 percent pay cuts to help the association weather the storm. The experience led to Associated Industries of Kentucky’s long-standing fiscal conservatism in the budget process.
World War II revived the U.S. economy and Associated Industries of Kentucky’s membership climbed back to 1920s levels. In 1944, Louis J. Bosse, director of the National Hardwood Dimension Association, assumed the title of managing director. Mr. Bosse instituted a number of dynamic initiatives during his 11-year tenure. He left in 1955 to assume the presidency of Standard Chair Company in Pennsylvania.
The 1950s saw the association’s size triple again. S. Rayburn Watkins was hired as president and chief executive officer, a position he would hold for 30 years.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s Americans dealt with the race into space, the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War; UK turned 100 and Secretariat ran the Kentucky Derby in less than two minutes. Meanwhile, Associated Industries of Kentucky merged with the Kentucky Tax Research Association and founded the Action in Kentucky association newspaper, a monthly publication going to members and community/legislative leaders throughout the Commonwealth. Another merger, this time with the Kentucky Taxpayers Association, followed in 1967. By the 1980s, Associated Industries of Kentucky had also merged with the Kentucky Safety Council and the Kentucky Small Business Association.
Mr. Watkins retired as president/CEO in 1985, with Director of Government Affairs Edward L. Holloway assuming the role. His first action was to rename the association newspaper The Kentucky Journal of Commerce and Industry.
Mr. Holloway retired in 1998, and the Board appointed Roy C. Strange as president/CEO to take the association through a transition period and lead it through the year 2000 Kentucky General Assembly session. Mr. Strange used his two-year period as president to solidify Associated Industries of Kentucky’s status as the premier industry advocacy organization in the Commonwealth.
As the world survived Y2K, the association entered a new era at the conclusion of the 2000 session with the presidency of Andrew C. Meko. Mr. Meko has eagerly embraced the role of leading Associated Industries of Kentucky into the new millennium while preserving its proud traditions.
The association today still leads the state business and industry community, playing a leading role in the passage of the landmark Kentucky Voluntary Environmental Remediation Act “Brownfield’s” legislation in 2001. Associated Industries of Kentucky administers the Kentucky Manufacturing Skill Standards Consortium in active partnership with KCTCS, the Bluegrass State Skills Corporation, the Workforce Development and Economic Development Cabinets and others to guide young people toward manufacturing skilled trades as a viable career option. The Chemical Industry Council, working with the American Chemistry Council, has established itself as Kentucky’s most effective industry advocate on environmental and safety issues. In addition, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers still maintains a close working relationship with the National Association of Manufacturers and its National Industrial Council. In 2006, the name has been changed to Kentucky Association of Manufacturers.
What began in 1911, with a core of 36 founding companies seeking to make a difference, has grown to over 400 member companies, who collectively give Kentucky Association of Manufacturers the prestige and influence our founders boldly set out to achieve. Our mission remains true to their faith – to maintain and expand this grand alliance, to keep our business climate strong, to the benefit of all Kentuckians, and to keep America the world’s greatest industrial nation. As we look to the future, we embrace this responsibility with our full devotion and energy.