Alltech plans large algae farm in Kentucky

May 17, 2010

Alltech President Pearse Lyons said Monday that his company will announce in August the creation of a large algae factory in Kentucky to make bio-fuel and research new approaches for mitigating climate change.

Lyons declined to give the location or other details of the facility because the deal is still being negotiated. He said it would be the nation’s second-largest algae factory, after one in South Carolina.

Lyons told about 1,500 people from 50 countries who came to Lexington Center for Alltech’s 26th annual International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium that algae shows great promise for helping humans cope with two big problems: energy and climate change.

That’s because 1 acre of algae can produce 5,000 gallons of bio-fuel per year, and 1 ton of algae can absorb 2 tons of carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen and carbohydrates, Lyons said.

Alltech, which primarily makes animal nutrition supplements using natural ingredients, uses the symposium to interact with its customers in 120 countries. Based in Lexington, the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

In the opening sessions, Lyons and Jim Pettigrew, a University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign professor who won this year’s Alltech Bioscience Medal of Excellence, also talked about how research, education and sustainable technology can be used to improve global food production.

Human health and environmental sustainability demand that agribusiness use fewer antibiotics and more natural supplements to improve animal nutrition and immune systems, Lyons said. “We are what our animals ate,” he said.

Symposium attendees also heard Monday from former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who talked about how he worked with Col. Harland Sanders to franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then Joaquin Pelaez, a Mexico native who runs Louisville-based Yum Brands’ KFC operations in China, talked about how KFC has grown there.

Other sessions this week range from animal nutrition issues to global agri-business trends. Attendees also browse booths throughout the convention center where Alltech touts its products, which also include Kentucky Ale, Alltech Angus steaks and Dippin Dots ice cream. The company also has begun distilling bourbon.

On Monday night, attendees were to attend a dinner in the new indoor arena at the Kentucky Horse Park to hear about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games there this fall.

Eric Roderick, who has been involved in tilapia fish farming in Wales since 1979 and is attending his first Alltech symposium, said the brand attracted him here. “The company has become such a big name in international aquaculture,” he said.

The title for this year’s symposium is “Bounce Back 2010,” which reflects both a desire for business to rebound from the global recession and the title of University of Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari’s book. Calipari will speak Wednesday.

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TEDx event showcases Kentucky creativity

April 23, 2010

The month-long focus on creativity in Lexington is about over, but let’s hope it’s really just the beginning.

April began with the Creative Cities Summit, included numerous other events and ended Friday with a TEDx seminar at Buster’s club that attracted about 200 people.

Technology executive Kent Lewis organized the local version of the informative seminars and video lectures produced by the TED organization. Standing for Technology, Entertainment and Design, TED’s theme is “ideas worth spreading.”

Jim Bates, who spends much of his time in Kentucky, is general manager of HRTV, a television-based multimedia network about horse racing. Bates called for more creativity in the horse industry, saying there’s no reason technology can’t help reverse racing’s decline in popularity.

“It’s the perfect sport for today’s instantaneous society,” he said. “It’s a two-minute event! A golf tournament takes four days!”

Bates, one of ESPN’s first employees, talked about how the 24-hour sports network has helped change the nature of sports in America — and not all for the better. He lamented that childrens’ sports has become highly organized by adults, which too often keeps kids from learning leadership, problem-solving and social skills.

Stanley Hainsworth, who was born and raised in small-town Western Kentucky, discussed his career as a top creative officer at Nike, Lego and Starbucks. He now owns a brand-development company, Tether. “Life is too short to not do what you’re passionate about,” he said.

Among the other speeches:

■ Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., discussed space research.

■ Community gardener Jim Embry talked about the importance of society reconnecting with the earth.

Christine Kuhn, an artist and former research scientist, talked about why art is important.

■ Artist Marjorie Guyon discussed her work.

■ Software developer Todd Willey talked about how technology can better connect people in the future.

Karen Gerstandt, a German-born scientist at the University of Kentucky, discussed her research into clean water and energy that was used in a new kind of power plant that opened last November in Norway.

■ Bill Cloyd talked about his company, Newton’s Attic, that uses play to teach kids science.

Wes Keltner, founder of a virtual technology firm, discussed how video games create emotional attachments.

■ Former Kentuckian Britt Selvitelle talked about his work as one of the lead software engineers for Twitter.

Lewis said he plans to organize another TEDx event in Lexington this fall, focused on children and creativity. He already has signed up his first two speakers; they’re both 12 years old.

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To create high-tech economy, focus on the brains

March 29, 2010

April is technology month in Lexington. Local promoters plan to spotlight the high-tech people and companies already here in the hope of attracting more.

Digital technology has given smart people more flexibility about where they live and work. That’s an opportunity for Lexington, a beautiful city with a great quality of life.

The big question is, how can Lexington make the most of that opportunity?

One way to succeed is to identify success and figure out how to replicate it. So I went to see Alan Hawse, vice president of information technology at Cypress Semiconductor, one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of the silicon chips at the heart of almost every electronic device.

Cypress is based in San Jose, Calif. Hawse works in Lexington, along with about 40 other Cypress employees who do high-level research and development. The Lexington design center is one of five Cypress has in the United States. Four others are in India, Ireland and Belgium.

Why is this little piece of the Silicon Valley now at Main Street and Mill in Lexington? Because of Hawse.

Hawse, 41, was born and raised in Lexington, attended public schools and studied electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky and Georgia Tech. He joined Cypress in 1991 and worked in the Silicon Valley for five years.

But when it came time to start a family, Hawse and his wife, Jill, who is from Georgetown, wanted to live here. Cypress didn’t want to see a talented employee move on, so it moved with him.

Things have worked out well for both Hawse and his employer. “Cypress loves Lexington because we’ve been able to hire a lot of super-intelligent people who like to live here and do good work,” he said.

Like Hawse, many of the Cypress employees in Lexington are native Kentuckians or UK graduates. “Every time there’s a story written about me,” he said, “I get calls from mothers with kids in the Silicon Valley.”

Hawse, a former Herald-Leader contributing columnist, said the first thing he would do to build Lexington’s high-tech economy would be to compile a list of Kentucky natives and UK grads who are technology industry standouts elsewhere. Call them. Fly out to see them. Ask them whether they have any interest in coming back. If so, ask them what it would take to get them here.

“Lexington has many, many of the good things about big cities and almost none of the drawbacks,” Hawse said. Natural beauty. Good schools. Universities. Little crime. No traffic. Lots of cultural amenities. “I would work at selling those things; play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses,” he said.

“I would promote an intellectual framework that would allow high-tech people everywhere to visualize themselves being here,” Hawse said. “Sometimes, all you have to do is give people a map. Maps have lots of roads on them. They don’t tell you where to go, but they show you where you can go.”

But that’s only a start. Lexington must become known as a place where technology people and companies can grow and succeed. That means more tolerance and diversity, fewer good old boy networks.

Most important of all, Hawse said, it means education. Kentucky must create educational excellence, from preschool to graduate school. Rigorous math and science education must begin in elementary school, and the “gem” students must be nurtured.

Creating educational excellence also means better coordination and pooling of Kentucky’s limited resources. Less overhead. Less bureaucracy. “Here’s a radical idea,” Hawse said. “What if we merged UK and (the University of Louisville)? What about that?”

The problem with traditional economic development strategies, Hawse thinks, is that they are political exercises built around trying to hit home runs — landing the big plant, attracting the big company.

But long-term success, he thinks, comes from steady, continuous improvement. Improving education. Connecting smart people and companies. Creating an entrepreneurial climate that encourages business development and personal success.

“It’s all about the brains and the skills they acquire,” Hawse said. “It’s all about developing the brains, keeping them here and bringing them back here. And bringing new ones here. The brains make it possible.”

April Is … an effort to boost Lexington high tech

February 22, 2010

Central Kentucky is known as a center for horses, bourbon and basketball. As a center for creative technology people? Not so much.

Yet, technology employment in the Lexington area has grown at a rate that is more than four times the national average in the past decade. More than 6,000 people are now employed by technology and software companies, including Lexmark, Belcan Engineering, ACS/Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and Mersive Technologies.

“I don’t think people realize how pervasive technology is here,” said Ben Askren, a Lexmark engineer. And that makes it difficult for technology companies to attract and retain the best employees so they can keep growing.

Askren is part of a volunteer group called In2Lex that has worked to help Lexington’s creative technology workers get to know each other through events such as Geek’s Night Out and Pecha-Kucha, an idea-generation program in which speakers make presentations of no more than six minutes and 40 seconds each.

Now the group wants to raise Lexington’s national profile as a place where creative technology people can find career opportunities and a pleasant, interesting lifestyle.

In2Lex is promoting “April Is …” to focus attention on more than 20 events being sponsored by several organizations that month. They include the Creative Cities Summit and a “TedX” seminar — a local version of the Technology, Entertainment, Design events that feature big-name speakers with “ideas worth spreading.”

Several technology gatherings are planned: the Kentucky Innovation & Technology Conference, the Kentucky Space Conference, and seminars related to electronic health information, mobile devices, government information systems, social entrepreneurship and business development.

And then there’s the geeky, fun stuff.

Mechanalia is an interactive game in which small teams drive electric rovers with robotic arms and try to accomplish tasks while opponents shoot at them with tennis-ball cannons; Tinker is a combination jazz festival and science fair for adults; and at the No Mercy Full-Blown Gamers’ Party, attendees can play unreleased video games.

All this will be going on during one of Lexington’s traditionally interesting months: the horses are running at Keeneland and competing in the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. And then there is the Best of the Bluegrass festival.

“We really want to promote Lexington as a lifestyle, career and education destination for people in creative technology,” Askren said.

OK, I can already hear some of you snickering. But, if you think about it, this economic development strategy makes a lot of sense. Digital technology increasingly allows creative workers to live wherever they want. And they usually want to live near a city with a lot of professional opportunities.

Competing with Austin, Texas, and Seattle is a challenge, but Central Kentucky has some advantages that it can exploit. “Once people see what’s here, it changes their perception of Kentucky,” said Gina Greathouse, Commerce Lexington’s senior vice president for economic development.

Those advantages include a laid-back, affordable lifestyle; a beautiful landscape; more arts and cultural offerings than many people realize; and a central location not far from Cincinnati and Louisville. Plus, Lexington has one of the nation’s best-educated labor forces: 38 percent of people older than 25 have college degrees, and there are 15 colleges and universities in the area.

Those attributes regularly put Lexington high on national rankings of places to raise a family or start a business.

In2Lex hopes to make its “April Is …” an annual event, and it is looking for new ways to market the region’s creative technology potential. “It really comes down to how do we make Lexington a better place,” Askren said.

  • If you go

    For more information about In2Lex and a schedule of events planned in April, go to