Gov. Beshear: Eastern Light Distilling Creating 50 Full-Time Jobs With New $143.7 Million Venue in Morehead

New operation to locate on KPDI-funded site in Rowan County

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 29, 2023) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear recognized new growth in Kentucky’s signature bourbon and spirits industry with Eastern Light Distilling, an Eastern Kentucky-based distilling company investing more than $143.7 million in a new venue located in Rowan County, expected to create at least 50 new jobs in the area in the coming years.

“Our signature bourbon industry is making its way into Eastern Kentucky with an exciting new company, Eastern Light Distilling,” said Gov. Beshear. “This new distilling operation will not only help foster growth in our craft bourbon industry but will also bring more than $143 million in new economic development investment, well-paying jobs and another great reason for tourists to visit the region. This is the kind of homegrown company that makes Kentucky and our signature bourbon industry so special.” 

Eastern Light Distilling is introducing an innovative new concept that will grow the state’s signature bourbon industry in Eastern Kentucky while supporting craft bourbon makers as a custom contract distiller. The locally owned venture is led by Kentucky bourbon industry veterans, including Chief Executive Officer Cordell Lawrence and Caleb Kilburn, an internationally recognized master distiller.

“Eastern Light is the culmination of a lifelong dream to see our state’s signature bourbon industry in my home of Eastern Kentucky,” Kilburn said.

The project also represents a major success for the Kentucky Product Development Initiative, as the Rowan County site was approved for nearly $600,000 in state support earlier this year. 

Eastern Light’s planned project builds on recent bourbon and spirits growth across Kentucky. Since the start of the Beshear administration, the commonwealth’s spirits industry has seen roughly 85 new-location or expansion projects totaling over $3 billion in planned investments and creating more than 1,500 announced full-time jobs. Last year represented the best year on record for growth of Kentucky’s bourbon and spirits industry, with $2.1 billion in new investments expected to create 700 full-time jobs.

Rowan County Judge/Executive Harry Clark mentioned the planning that went into the Eastern Light Distilling project: “I couldn’t be more pleased to see this development finally get underway here in Rowan County. The work leading to today’s announcement spans years of careful planning and significant commitment from both public and private partners. None of it would have been possible were it not for our forward-thinking Governor and legislators when they allocated the Kentucky Product Development Initiative funding to all 120 counties. The program has offered unique opportunities for counties like ours to market and make ready sites for economic development on a local level because we know best what we have to offer in our community. We expect Eastern Light Distilling’s announcement today will have an extensive positive impact on this county regarding tourism and economic development, and I believe that this investment speaks volumes to the quality of workforce and expansive capabilities we can bring to the table here in Rowan County.”

Morehead-Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development President and CEO Jason Slone spoke on the economic impact of the project: “This is truly a special day for Morehead and Rowan County by having the commonwealth’s signature industry and Eastern Light Distilling become a part of our community. Our community has always been known as the hardwoods manufacturing capital of the world, including the manufacturing of staves and barrels for the industry, and today’s announcement with Eastern Light Distilling is bringing that longstanding vision full circle as the state’s signature industry heads east. This investment in our community is a direct result of investments made possible through the Kentucky Product Development Initiative program to generate immediate economic development opportunities that allow us to compete and grow our manufacturing and tourism sectors into the future, ensuring high-wage jobs for future generations.”

Eastern Light’s investment and planned job creation furthers recent economic momentum in the commonwealth, as the state builds back stronger from the effects of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Gov. Beshear announced there are more than 2 million jobs filled in Kentucky – the most in state history – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its federal survey of business establishments. And the Governor highlighted that 57,000 new jobs have been filled since the beginning of his administration.

The Governor recently announced that Kentucky set the record for the longest period with the lowest unemployment rates in state history. On May 18, Gov. Beshear announced that Kentucky set a new historic low unemployment rate of 3.7%, which is the lowest rate ever recorded in the commonwealth.

Since the beginning of his administration, Gov. Beshear has announced more than 860 private-sector new-location and expansion projects totaling $26.8 billion in announced investments.

The robust job creation has been accompanied by rising wages across the commonwealth. The average incentivized hourly wage in 2022 was $26.78 before benefits, the second-highest mark since 2010 and an 11.5% increase over the previous year.

The Governor also secured the best two-year period in state history for economic growth and announced the two largest economic development projects in state history. In September 2021, Gov. Beshear and leaders from Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation celebrated a transformative $5.8 billion investment that will create 5,000 jobs in Hardin County. In April 2022, the Governor was joined by leadership at AESC to announce a $2 billion investment that will create 2,000 jobs in Warren County. These announcements solidify Kentucky as the EV battery production capital of the United States.

That position was strengthened even further in May 2023, when the Governor and leaders at Toyota announced a $591 million investment across multiple projects as the company’s largest manufacturing operation in Georgetown introduces its first battery electric vehicle. Growth within the EV sector continued into June as Gov. Beshear joined INFAC North America to break ground on the company’s $53 million investment to support EV-related production in Campbellsville.

Over a two-month period this year, Kentucky secured two credit rating increases from major agencies. On May 12, Gov. Beshear announced that his administration obtained the first state-level credit rating upgrade in 13 years and the first-ever upgrade from Fitch Ratings. On June 29, Gov. Beshear announced the commonwealth received its first-ever rating increase from S&P Global Ratings.

Site Selection magazine recently placed Kentucky first in the South Central region and top-5 nationally in its 2023 Prosperity Cup ranking, which recognizes state-level economic development agencies for their success in landing capital investment projects. The publication also placed Kentucky second nationwide and first in the South Central region for its annual Governor’s Cup ranking for 2022, which recognizes state-level economic success based on capital investments.

Gov. Beshear’s administration is projected to post the four highest years of budget surpluses in Kentucky history, and the state’s rainy day fund has a record balance of $2.7 billion.

Gov. Beshear recently announced a new “Supply Kentucky” initiative with the goal of boosting job growth, reducing costs and providing more security in the supply chains of our Kentucky companies.

To encourage the investment and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority today preliminarily approved a 15-year incentive agreement with the company under the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based agreement can provide up to $1.9 million in tax incentives based on the company’s investment of $143.7 million and annual targets of:

  • Creation and maintenance of 50 Kentucky-resident, full-time jobs across 15 years; and
  • Paying an average hourly wage of $33.17 including benefits across those jobs.

Additionally, KEDFA approved Eastern Light Distilling for up to $100,000 in tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act. This act allows approved companies to recoup Kentucky sales and use tax on construction costs, building fixtures, equipment used in research and development and electronic processing.

By meeting its annual targets over the agreement term, the company can be eligible to keep a portion of the new tax revenue it generates. The company may claim eligible incentives against its income tax liability and/or wage assessments.

In addition, Eastern Light can receive resources from Kentucky’s workforce service providers. Those include no-cost recruitment and job placement services, reduced-cost customized training and job-training incentives.

For more information on Eastern Light Distilling, visit

A detailed community profile for Rowan County can be viewed here.