Has Andy Beshear Found an Economic Legacy?

A Kentucky “high-tech” greenhouse company is incubating more than fruits and vegetables; they’re sprouting what could be a hallmark of Gov. Andy Beshear’s 2023 re-election campaign. 

As AppHarvest grow houses are popping up around eastern Kentucky, Beshear is hailing the company as the “next Toyota,” and buddying up to a company tight with former Republican President Donald Trump. 

Tying the budding tech-green house company as this generation’s Toyota-level economic investment, Beshear, in turn, is linking his legacy to the company – much the same way former Democratic Gov. Martha Layne Collins did in bringing the Japanese car manufacturer to Georgetown in 1986. More than three decades later, Collins still is remembered for her dogged work in bringing Toyota to Kentucky. 

Despite the pandemic and economic hardships associated with it, Kentucky’s economy is showing positive signs as two rating agency’s improving the economic outlook in Kentucky in recent months as employment numbers are growing slightly faster than the rest of the nation. Beshear’s challenge will be showing the public positive economic growth continues. In part, AppHarvest is a solution for Beshear in growing Kentucky towards a technology economy.

One way Beshear has shown an “economy prepared to boom” is by constantly appearing with Jonathan Webb, the CEO of AppHarvest, as the company continues its expansion efforts. Webb said the company is seeking 12 high-tech indoor farms by 2025. That growth would equate to multiple ground-breaking appearances and ribbon cuttings for Beshear in the coming years.

In aligning with AppHarvest, Beshear is also making an odd-bedfellow alliance with a Donald Trump-aligned entity. Insiders in the Silicon Valley venture capital community often refer to AppHarvest as “Trump’s Hot House” because of the various connections back to the former Republican president. 

Two Trump aides joined AppHarvest in recent years. Derek Lyons, the White House staff secretary and a counselor to the president joined AppHarvest in late December 2020, according to news reports. Jordan Karem was the director of Oval Office Operation and a personal aide to President Trump. Karem left the post in January 2019 – he was with Trump from the very beginning of his presidential campaign back in 2015. 

AppHarvest is also tied to conservative author J.D. Vance whose seed fund Rise of the Rest invested in the agricultural startup. Vance also served on the AppHarvest board, leaving the post in April as he explores a Senate run in Ohio. Vance, a one-time critic of President Trump, met with conservative Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel and Trump at the former president’s resort Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, according to reports.

By connecting himself with those close to Trump via AppHarvest, Beshear could be garnering needed political capital to draw in Republicans and Independents in a General Election in 2023. 

Beshear narrowly won election in 2019 by 5,000 votes against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.