Good afternoon. It’s an honor to be with you today to share my ideas and my vision on how, working together, we can help transform our region, grow jobs and build bridges, both literally and figuratively, across the Ohio River.
In some ways, this is a homecoming for me because it is here, in Southern Indiana, where my brother Mark and I spent the majority of my business career...where my family and I purchased a bankrupt company from Sellersburg and transformed it into a global corporation.
It is here, in Southern Indiana, where I was a wide-eyed 20-something with hopes and dreams that one day our company would the best in the world.
And it is here, in Southern Indiana, where I learned the importance of building a team and of measuring success not by comparing my company to itself, but by comparing it to the best in the world.
All those skills that I learned and honed on this side of the Ohio River inform and impact me today as Mayor of the other side of the Ohio.
Allow me to take a little trip down memory lane -- and even to show a few pictures along the way.
In my early college years, I had a glamorous job. I tarred roofs during summer just up the road in Corydon Working on those steamy roofs, on 90- and 100-degree days, I learned something very important about myself -- that I didn’t want to tar roofs, in the middle of summer… or, for that matter, any time of the year.
I wanted a cool job -- so in the summers of 1978, 1979 and 1980 I bolted as far away from hot roofs as I could get and traveled to Kodiak, Alaska and worked as a crane operator unloading salmon boats. There’s a picture now -- me and the fish.
I made good money those three summers that not only helped pay for college, but financed a trip around the world after graduating from Vanderbilt University. There I am, just before setting off to backpack across Asia, then through portions of Europe.
That experience, a year alone traveling the world, gave me a global perspective on life. When I returned to Louisville in 1980, my father, brother Mark and I discovered a bankrupt business in Southern Indiana that made ice dispensers and was named SerVend.
We signed a small-business loan for $29,000 and, with global aspirations, changed the name to SerVend International.
We struggled for the first few years...we barely survived...then one day a customer asked for a machine that included a cold plate. My brother and I look at each other – “What’s a cold plate?” – but, naturally, we didn’t tell our customer that.
“Yes, sir…yes we can,” my brother Mark told the customer.
Along with our good friend and partner Jerry Landers, we invented the machine....and the company really took off after that.
Our ice and beverage dispenser came along at a pretty good time -- just as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores were proliferating worldwide.
Our first export customer was Allen Chang, of Taiwan, who eventually became a huge customer for us throughout Asia.
We grew SerVend into a global company with 300 employees and $70 million in sales – all based in Sellersburg.
In 1997, we sold the company to Manitowoc, where it still remains on Future Drive, just off I-65.
We received a lot of help from our southern Indiana friends at the Future Drive location. Doug England worked for Koetter Construction and helped us out quite a bit in addition to the great work by all of the Koetters.
Rick Dickman helped with economic development incentives.
And occasionally, we’d roll down to Covered Bridge and see what the infamous Fuzz was up to.
Many of you all helped me in my campaign for Louisville mayor – Kenny Huber helped organize several events.
I tell you all of these stories because the lessons I learned at SerVend are relevant for Louisville and Southern Indiana today.
At SerVend, our growth came because we worked as a team – and assembled the best team in the business.
Louisville and Southern Indiana need to work as a team.
At SerVend, we didn’t just compare ourselves to ourselves -- we compared ourselves to competitors and aspired to be the best in the world. Louisville and Southern Indiana need to aspire to be the best in the world.
At SerVend, we worked with a weakness orientation -- what were our weaknesses and how did we turn them to strengths? Louisville and Southern Indiana need to do the same.
I want to talk about two projects – both involving bridges – that I know are important to every single person in this room….and every single person and business, especially in Southern Indiana.
On my first day in office…January 3rd….Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and I announced that we had trimmed $500 million from the $4.1 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.
That didn’t just happen by itself….it took teamwork that started before I officially took office.
I strongly believe that the power of the private sector…to find efficiencies and reduce costs….has not been unleashed on the bridges projects.
That’s why, two weeks ago, we held the Bridges Innovation Forum – more than 800 private sector contractors, architects, engineers and others spent two days studying the bridges project. I know that some great innovating ideas will soon be emerging from the brainpower in that room.
When I was on the campaign trail, an elderly man who lives in Southern Indiana told me that he would likely not live to travel across the bridges. So, he asked that his body be dug up and carried across the new East End Bridge.
I am hopeful we won’t have to exhume a coffin because I am here today….to pledge to all 500 of you in this room….that I fully intend to get the bridges under construction during my first term….the next four years.
I also pledge to you today that we will complete construction and cut the ribbon in the next four years on the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge. It will not only link our cities, it will help link our souls.
Thanks to Mayor Tom Galligan and his team in Jeffersonville for helping make this happen by committing $2 million to build the ramp in Southern Indiana. This is a great example of another partnership – the two states and the two city governments working together to get things done.
I believe the progress we’ve made on the bridges project and the Big Four signal a new era of co-operation between Louisville and Southern Indiana. We need to think and we need to act like the super-region that we are.
I have five goals for Louisville during my first term – and, in my view, they are five goals for Southern Indiana as well.
I want to significantly increase the amount of capital and investment dollars in our region. I was among those who started the first business incubator, bCatalyst, in Louisville and I’m a venture capitalist and angel investor -- so I know how to make that happen.
I want to make Louisville – and Southern Indiana -- a region of entrepreneurs, where people are eager to take risks. Our region must be mentioned in the same breath as the regions of Austin and Minneapolis when it comes to an entrepreneurial culture. We need a blast of even more entrepreneurism in Louisville.
I plan to create the Office of Innovation in Louisville Metro Government – so we begin to think about breakthrough ideas that thrust our city into a new direction. This office will seek to grow jobs around economic sectors that are our city’s strengths, such as aging care.
Finally, I want our Planning and Design department to be the best in the country, balancing growth with sustainability…thinking and working with responsible builders to grow jobs and world class projects I want the department to be customer focused and laser like on problem solving so it encourages business and job growth.
We can set that example with our many projects including the Floyds Fork-21st Century Parks project and our Louisville Loop 100-mile hiking and biking path – one of the largest and most innovative initiatives of its kind in the nation.
The Louisville Loop project has an impact on Southern Indiana, too, with your Ohio River Greenway that soon will connect to our Loop via the Big Four Bridge. I’d also like to work with you all to get pedestrian and cycling access to the K&I bridge so we could have a nine mile loop once the pedestrian bridges and Greenway are completed.
So, I ask you now to join me in making the next four years a time for breakthrough ideas and innovation for Louisville and Southern Indiana.
We cannot think of ourselves as two separate places – no more than Lewis and Clark thought of our region as two separate places when they journeyed down the mighty Ohio River.
Lewis and Clark saw lands of opportunity – they just happened to be separated by some water.
On October 14, 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met in Louisville and formed one of the most famous and successful partnerships in history as they opened the frontier to the rest of America.
So, today, let’s pledge a similar co-operation. My city may be called Louisville and your cities may be called Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany….but we all live together in this region we call Kentuckiana.
I look forward to working with you over the next four years to grow our economies, to create jobs and to make our region a model for the world.