FRANKFORT -- Wrapping up his third year in office, Gov. Andy Beshear told The Courier Journal Wednesday he saw Kentuckians push forward in 2022, despite all the crises they've weathered.
"This last year, in many ways ... was our move from a deep, dark historical moment that started with this pandemic into a bright future with more opportunity for our next generations than we have ever seen.
"I truly believe we're turning the page. And in turning the page, we're not just coming out of something tough, we're moving into something that can be exceptional."
In Wednesday's year-end interview, here are three accomplishments Beshear highlighted from 2022 and one challenge he'll focus on in the new year.
Achievement: Boosted economic growth
"We're in the best two-year period for economic development in our history, and it's not even close," he said.
His administration's biggest win actually came last year, when Ford Motor Co. chose Hardin County as the home of twin electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants. They broke ground on that project this week.
This year saw plenty more announcements, including the electric vehicle battery producer Envision AESC's April reveal that it will build a $2 billion plant in Bowling Green.
Combined with Ford, Beshear said that "makes us the electric vehicle battery production capital of the United States."
Achievement: Expanded access to health care
The governor stressed the vitality of one project, especially: Norton Healthcare and Goodwill Industries of Kentucky's plan to establish a campus featuring the first Louisville hospital built west of Ninth Street, in a mainly Black area, in over 150 years.
"It's not just the right thing to do ... in many ways it rights historic wrongs, but (also) shows you how we are getting health care to areas that it hasn't been in far too long," he said.
Beshear recently made two more big moves focused on improving access to health care:
A shift to allow Kentucky adults to get dental, vision and hearing services covered by Medicaid;
Achievement: Committed to recovery from floods and tornadoes
A year ago this Saturday, a deadly tornado tore through Western Kentucky. People there still are recovering, and that effort was a sustained focus for Beshear throughout 2022. In the midst of that rebuilding, though, Eastern Kentucky got wrecked in July by a different natural disaster: deadly floodwaters.
Beshear credits the work done so far to build a broad coalition of people, from first responders to state and local officials to regular Kentuckians who donated and helped out.
"Now that's not a one-time thing. We are going to be providing that assistance for years to come. But I am so proud of our National Guard, our state police, our first responders. They made over 1,400 rescues in the first 48 hours. That's 1,400 Kentuckians that are alive today because of them. So that's not a 'me,' that's an 'us' and a 'them.'"
"Saturday I will be in Mayfield and in Dawson (Springs) and in Marshall County to tell them that we're still not done," he said. "I will tell you, new homes going up in Dawson Springs is pretty special for me to see because that was one of the hardest things I've ever done — standing in a town that I knew really well.
"But what they show is a testament of resiliency and how far things have come. ... I think the West shows that we're going to make it, and I hope gives confidence to the East that we are going to be just as determined."
Challenge: Kentucky's teacher shortage and students' struggles
"As we come out of this pandemic, every state is suffering from a learning loss," he said. "But the first thing is to have enough teachers. We can't catch a kid up in math if they don't have a math teacher."
With almost 11,000 vacant teaching jobs in Kentucky public schools, he'll push for his Education First Plan. He proposes major financial investments, including a 5% raise for schools' staff, student loan forgiveness incentives for teachers and support for more social and mental health services for students.
He also wants to make universal prekindergarten happen statewide, saying:
"I've talked about it for a long time, about having every child kindergarten-ready. But the second piece is ... it's the fastest thing we can do to augment our workforce. It saves families about $12,000 a year."
He'll need the Republican-run Kentucky legislature's cooperation to achieve those goals.
Reach reporter Morgan Watkins at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Gov. Andy Beshear touts economy, health care, disaster recovery