The General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant received the John B. Holland Business of the Year Award on Thursday during the annual Targeted Business and Industry Banquet at the Knicely Conference Center.

Hal Heiner, secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, was the keynote speaker at the dinner attended by 350 people.

Heiner said the challenge in Kentucky and the nation is finding a skilled and talented workforce that shows up for work. Heiner said the fact that 145,000 adult Kentuckians are staying home rather than seeking employment means the state's adult worker participation rate percentage is lower than other states, and that's not good.

He called on transforming high schools and said efforts to create more dual college credit opportunities for high school students will help turn Kentucky around.

"A high school diploma is not enough. If we are to be the single greatest commonwealth, we must meet the needs of every child," Heiner said.

The cabinet secretary said business leaders need to look at Gov. Matt Bevin's "Red Tape Reduction Initiative" and tell state government what regulations need to be kicked to the curb.

"We are going though all the regulations, items that haven't been touched since the '70s," Heiner said.

The banquet on the south campus of Western Kentucky University also recognized new businesses, expansions and projects that were partnerships between education and the business community. Environmental improvements were also lauded. For a listing of honorees, see bgdailynews.com.

GM has invested more than $770 million the past two years at the only plant that manufactures the Chevrolet Corvette. In June, GM invested $293 million to upgrade and modify the plant’s vehicle assembly operations. That's in addition to the construction and startup of the previously announced $439 million new paint shop investment in 2015.

Last year, the assembly plant reported that 53,738 tourists from around the world visited the plant, while the nearby National Corvette Museum attracted 221,000. The plant represents a more than 30-year commitment from GM to the community and region.

Kai Spande, GM plant manager, said 16,000 jobs are created throughout the region by the nearly 1,000 employees who build Corvettes.

"There are almost 1,000 people working on the new paint shop. That's like a whole new factory for the community," Spande said.

Just in 2016, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, which held the banquet, has made announcements totaling $432 million in investments and the creation of 514 new jobs.

The chamber partners also honored Graves-Gilbert Clinic, Med Center Health, and TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital.

Last year, GGC opened a new $20 million, 40,000-square-foot primary care facility on Nashville Road, adding 50 jobs and employing 10 health care providers.

Med Center Health is collaborating with the University of Kentucky and WKU to establish at The Medical Center the University of Kentucky College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus. The first class of students will begin in the summer of 2018. Med Center Health also invested more than $26.6 million and added two more hospitals, adding 309 employees. Med Center Health has 3,479 employees in the region.

TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital is investing $30 million for a new ambulatory surgery center, a new intensive care unit and upgrades at the Bowling Green hospital.

Heiner said southcentral Kentucky's economic engine is burning bright.

"The commonwealth needs Bowling Green to be more successful than ever."

—Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Charles Allen Mason is the business reporter for the Daily News. He is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a 1977 graduate of West Virginia University in Morgantown. In his spare time he enjoys reading, music, sports and cooking.

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