Like many other cities and regions around the country, Louisville, Ky. faces a series of stark economic and social challenges coinciding with the COVID-19 crisis. As local leaders attempt to chart a course for an economically and racially inclusive recovery, opportunities to create and preserve good-paying jobs in growing sectors—and ensure equitable access to those jobs—are emerging as key priorities. How well Louisville’s economy is positioned to innovate and adopt the latest technologies—particularly those that fall under the heading of artificial intelligence (AI)—may dictate the pace, distribution, and sustainability of its recovery.
This report offers a first-of-its-kind benchmarking of AI positioning and preparedness for metropolitan economies, comparing Louisville to its peer regions around the country. It examines a wide range of AI-related data that portrays Louisville and its peers on five key drivers of technological success: collaboration, innovation, talent, industry specialization, and financial capital and startup ecosystem. The report sheds light not only on AI-specific activities and competencies characteristic of cities involved in the production of AI technologies, but also a wider range of adjacent data economy attributes that may indicate a city’s readiness to adopt AI technologies at greater scale.
The report finds that:
1. Louisville ranks lower than most of its peers on AI-specific measures of innovation, talent, and startup ecosystem.
Nevertheless, it has a considerable base of talent and companies specializing in the wider data economy—most notably in key strong clusters such as health care and business services. These provide Louisville with important foundations for wider adoption of cutting-edge AI techniques and applications.
Note: Based on the work of the Greater Louisville Project and its partners at the University of Louisville, we compare Louisville to its geographic peers on measures of AI preparedness. These metro peers include Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Cincinnati, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Mich., Greensboro, N.C., Greenville, S.C., Indianapolis, Kansas City, Knoxville, Tenn., Memphis, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Neb., St. Louis, and Tulsa, Okla.
2. Louisville faces two key challenges as it seeks to establish a stronger foothold in the AI economy.
First, while its strong clusters exhibit many data economy functions and occupations, many of those assets are tied up in the very largest companies and institutions. Moreover, the lack of recent growth in data economy capabilities relative to peer regions suggests potential threats to future industry competitiveness. Second, Louisville’s data economy remains racially exclusive; the metro area’s Black workers are less represented in computer and mathematical occupations than in only two of its 16 peer regions. The legitimacy of the region’s overall recovery strategy—and its ability to meaningfully accelerate growth in the data economy—will depend on whether it generates new opportunities for Black residents and Black-majority communities.
3. As Louisville approaches these new opportunities and challenges, it does so with an enviable institutional landscape that, by collaboratively facilitating data access, funding, training, and business development, could form the basis for a powerful and equitable AI strategy.
As evidence of this, a wide range of stakeholders (including public sector, secondary and higher education, corporate, startup, and civic intermediaries) has engaged with the Louisville Future of Work Initiative and Brookings Metro to inform this assessment. The region must now marshal these AI-relevant assets and institutions toward a more specific, shared vision for competitive and inclusive growth.
What is artificial intelligence?
The realm of artificial intelligence (AI) eludes a simple definition. Historically, scientists have used AI to refer to computers doing things that—if done by humans—would be said to require “intelligence,” like planning, problem-solving, or prediction.1 Echoing this, the Microsoft monograph The Future Computed defines AI as “a set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason, and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to what people do.”2 The most influential field underlying AI has been machine learning: computers’ use of algorithms to find statistical patterns in massive amounts of data. The growing sophistication of those algorithms, together with greatly increased processing speeds and data storage capabilities, have yielded explosions in machine learning applications such as speech and facial recognition, natural language processing, and preference prediction. Because these technologies are evolving so rapidly, it is difficult at any one time to say exactly what AI is. This analysis uses a variety of measures, defined somewhat differently depending on available data, to provide a fuller picture of AI’s presence in Louisville and other metro area economies.
This report points to three areas for deepening focus and investment that can facilitate a technologically enabled, broad-based, and racially equitable recovery from the COVID-19 recession:
1. Broaden and diversify Louisville’s AI talent pipeline.
Scale and sustain emerging talent development efforts at all levels—secondary, postsecondary, retraining, and continuing education—that can help the region seed new enterprises, transition existing businesses, and attract new good jobs from elsewhere. Ensure strong connections to local employers and deeper reach into communities of color, while emphasizing the cultivation of specific AI-related skills (e.g., in data management and algorithm development) that can signal Louisville’s emerging proficiencies in that space.
2. Support AI adoption and adaptation in Louisville’s businesses.
Build a stronger local ecosystem—particularly in areas of existing sectoral and data economy strength such as lifelong wellness and aging—involving startups, middle-market companies, large corporations, and supporting civic institutions committed to using data in new ways to solve business challenges. At the same time, enable transformation in other prominent clusters such as business services, transportation and logistics, and advanced manufacturing through either sector-specific organizations or cross-cutting strategies focused on adopting AI and data economy tools and developing associated talent. Throughout, feature the experiences and center the needs of women- and minority-owned businesses to fully support their success in Louisville’s wider technological transformation.
3. Develop and market Louisville’s AI niche in the broader region.
Seek opportunities to join with larger Midwestern and Southeastern neighbors in a “super-regional” hub for AI- and data-economy-enabled health care solutions. Universities, chambers, and corporations across Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville, Tenn. should explore steps to strategically share an AI-enabled workforce, supply chain, and research assets in health care and life sciences that leverage their respective specializations and position themselves more prominently for businesses development and high-quality job growth.