By Faisal Hamza
My first impression of Commerce Lexington could not have been a better one. I grew up in Dubai and am currently attending university in the United Kingdom, so this was the first time I was interning in the USA. My family recently invested in a manufacturing company in Lexington called Blue Star Plastics, so I thought this would be the ideal place to gain experience. Before my arrival however, my initial thought was “Is this just going to be another thing to put on my CV?” Many of my previous experiences with internships were quite unsatisfactory; they were boring, unconstructive, and lacking a challenge, so I was worried that coming here would be the same. As you may have already guessed, I was in fact very wrong.
The first people I met at Commerce Lexington were Gina Greathouse from the Economic Development department and Andi Johnson from Public Policy. After introducing themselves and the company, any reservations that I might leave empty-handed were evaporated. I can safely say that they are two of the kindest, most hard-working people I have met. They and the rest of the staff at Commerce Lexington were unbelievably accommodating and helpful from day one. There was not a trace of condescending attitude despite my comparatively young age; it was the first time I was able to allow my maturity to show through during an internship, enabling me to contribute and integrate. Although I was mainly involved with the Economic Development and Public Policy departments, it did not stop other members of the chamber from also being extremely welcoming. I was shocked to see that some people I rarely engaged with even remembered my name (thank you Tyrone Tyra for your concern when I was outside in the rain!). I don’t think they realize just how great they are, both in personality and in work ethic. It was truly refreshing to meet people of such caliber and experience.
I would personally recommend an internship with Commerce Lexington to anyone who may be interested. Just in the short time I was here, I managed to attend a variety of economic and policy meetings, produce analysis reports, develop and suggest my own ideas and even met Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. For anyone particularly interested in economics, public policy or business, or just passionate about contributing to the public in general, this is the ideal experience. The process of policy-making and facilitating growth in the economy are just a few of the areas to which you will become accustomed. Even if you unsure of your future career path, working here provides you with a certain understanding and skill that can be applied to other areas of life. The impacts of this sector are significant to society as a whole, no matter what they do.
My international exposure proved to be very useful here, not only as a point of conversation with much of the staff, but it was a valuable asset when analyzing policies, trends and in particular, methods of attracting FDI. It allowed me to provide another perspective on issues. For example, having looked at ways to improve the workforce in Lexington, I wrote a report recommending the expansion of the apprenticeship system in Lexington, something that is highly under-used in the USA. I would not have been able to do this without my prior experience of having lived in the United Kingdom, which has an expansive apprenticeship program. It goes to show how mutually beneficial engaging with other countries can be.
Lexington is the ideal location for businesses wishing to expand into the U.S. market. Despite this, if there is at least one thing I know, it is that people abroad have rarely heard of Kentucky (apart from its fried chicken and horses), let alone Lexington itself. Surveys amongst companies also indicated that most came here only off the back of personal connections and recommendations by other companies. Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing, so once Toyota expanded here a while ago, many others followed suit. Using all of this information, I proposed in a meeting between various Kentucky chambers that in order to put Kentucky on the map they should target and develop relationships with specific countries. Taking state/local leadership on a trade visit would be highly received in many cultures who highly value such a personal gesture. Trade visits are already conducted by the chamber, but it is now something they might look at expanding.
Whether or not these ideas ever come to fruition here is not the point, however. The point is that because of the encouraging and resourceful environment provided by Commerce Lexington, I quickly found that there was space for me to be creative and genuinely contribute to the organization, which gives you valuable confidence. To be able to rub shoulders with people of such experience and integrity would be refreshing for anyone, regardless of their age. I can also sincerely say that Kentucky and Lexington will hold a place in my life from now on. The people and the place leave a great impression on you, and I can now see why companies skeptical of moving here at first, end up loving it!
I would like to sincerely thank Bob Quick, Gina, Andi and the rest of Commerce Lexington for everything they did for me. From the upbeat environment and laughs to the challenging assignments, it all combined to give me an amazing life experience that I will take into the future. I was taken out of my comfort zone a few times (especially when writing this article!), and I am better for it. Although it was a tough decision, I came to the conclusion that I do not regret giving up a portion of my vacation to come and work for Commerce Lexington. If that doesn’t make you interested, then I’m not sure what will!