Home of the two-minute horse race and the birth of bourbon, Kentucky has a lot to brag about. The Bluegrass State has roughly 450 thoroughbred horse farms, the world-famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and the Buffalo Trace Distillery, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the U.S. The latter is one of nine historic distilleries tourists can tour as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which also features iconic Kentucky brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.
Thanks to all those horse farms, Kentucky produces more thoroughbreds than any other U.S. state, helping to drive both tourism and gambling. Since 1875, the Derby has taken place on the first Saturday in May, preceded by another premier racing event, the Kentucky Oaks, on Friday, making them the longest running sporting events in history. More than 165,000 people attend the Derby each year, contributing some $160 million to the Louisville economy. Statewide, horse-related businesses employ over 100,000 people and have a $4 billion economic impact.
It’s no surprise then that state is home to the world’s only park dedicated to the relationship between humans and horses, the Kentucky Horse Park. Located in Lexington, this 1,200-acre compound includes a working horse farm with up to 50 breeds, including a Derby winner. You’ll also find the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddle Horse Museum, the National Horse Center and numerous equine events.
There are over 4.3 million Kentuckians as of 2015, and the population growth rate is 1.7%, which trails behind the U.S. average of 3.2%. Located along the state’s western border on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville is by far the most populated metropolitan area in Kentucky with over 1.2 million residents (43rd largest in the U.S.), while Lexington, in the center of the state, has the second largest metropolitan population with more than 490,000 people. In 2015, the median home values in Louisville and Lexington were $147,444 and $169,854, respectively, while the statewide median home value was $124,382, roughly $55,000 less than the U.S. average.
Looking for something even cheaper, perhaps with its own meteorological phenomenon? Residents in Corbin, in the Southern Lakes region, can witness a moonbow, or a lunar rainbow, roughly 5-7 nights a month. This enchanting event can be seen nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere. A dark sky, an almost full bright moon and rain on the opposite side of the moon must be present to create a moonbow. Living near this marvel is inexpensive, however, as Corbin had a median home value of $92,382 in 2015. The area also boasts the seven-story Cumberland Falls and over 63,000 acres of water in which to sail, swim and fish, thanks to several man-made lakes created by dams.
Historically, Kentucky's Northern River region is a significant place in our nation's history. Several towns in this region were stops along the Underground Railroad, a system which hid and moved slaves out of slavery states and to lands of freedom in the mid-1800s. The largest city in the area is Covington (population 40,956), which is just minutes from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and part of the Cincinnati metro area, which has more than 2 million people across 17 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Despite this urban proximity, the median home value in Covington was $103,820 in 2015.
Another mecca for water sport fanatics is the Western Waterland region in the southwest corner of the state, which has two of the largest man-made lakes in the nation and four different rivers, including the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Cumberland. Its best known city, Paducah (population 25,018), which is home to the National Quilt Museum, had a median home value of $103,006 in 2015. To spur economic development and transform into an artists’ enclave, Paducah launched the Artist Relocation Program in 2000. Since that time, many renowned artists have moved into the once-seedy Lowertown neighborhood, drawn by the offer of fixer-up work/live properties for as little as $1. As of 2015, only two properties were left to be renovated, thanks to the program’s success.
While the cost of real estate is low in Kentucky, so are incomes. In 2015, the median household income was $43,036, placing the state in the bottom 10 states for household wealth. Furthermore, 18% of Kentuckians live in poverty, which is higher than the U.S. average and the 11th highest rate in the nation. 87% of Kentuckians are white, 7 percent are black and 3% are Hispanic, with Germans representing the largest ethnicity at 10%.
As for educational attainment, Kentucky also places in the bottom 10 states for both high school graduation (82%) and college graduation (21%) rates. There are more than 60 higher education institutions in the state, including two rivals known for their nationally ranked men’s basketball programs, the University of Kentucky (winner of eight men’s NCAA basketball championships) in Lexington and the University of Louisville (winner of three men’s NCAA basketball championships).