Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Community Action of Southern Kentucky

Social service providers in Kentucky are dealing with the rollout of the new Benefind system for public benefits. Those benefits include Medicaid and food stamps.

Across the state, there have been reports of long waits on the phone to update or change benefits with the Department for Community Based Services.

Melissa Grimes is Community Action’s program manager for Kynect. That’s the state’s health exchange that Governor Matt Bevin has promised to dismantle and replace with the federal exchange through Benefind.

Grimes says some of Community Action’s facilitators called Kynectors have had long telephone wait times.

“Some of the holds have been quite extensive for some of my Kynectors. I’ve heard up to three hours,” said Grimes. “But I think most are starting to get through now within an hour if not shorter.”

Alcoa Public Relations

After 56 years in operation, the Alcoa smelter in Warrick County, Indiana has shut down. The aluminum plant ended operations March 24.

The Evansville Courier and Press reports the smelter had 600 employees and about 325 of those have been laid off.  Aloca said the rest have accepted retirement or severance packages or found other employment.

Alcoa announced the shutdown in January and blamed it on the drop in aluminum prices.  

The Alcoa Warrick smelter was one of the last coal-fired smelters in the country.

Apus Air

Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport is getting a new flight school that trains pilots for Chinese airlines.

Apus Air announced this week that it is constructing a flight training center at the airport. The project will create 35 jobs.

CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation Madison Silvert says the regional airport is a perfect fit for the company’s needs. 

 “They were looking for an airport that had the right balance of runway links and amenities and low traffic so they could provide a confident environment for new trainees,” says Silvert.

The California-based company is making an investment $1.65 million in the new facility.

Grayson County schools

Chefs are working with schools in eight Kentucky counties to increase the use of fresh food from local farmers. The goal is to create healthier and more appealing meals for students. 

The project is called the Chefs in Schools Collaborative.

Grayson County’s six schools have a chef working with food service staff during the month of March.

School district food service director Kristy Hodges says chef Chris Byrd has helped create lower sodium and less processed food with more natural seasonings.  

“In the past we had used a prepackaged mix for our taco seasoning and he’s helped some of the ladies in the schools come up with their own seasoning recipes,” says Hodges. “He’s doing the same thing with the chili recipe. We used to order spaghetti sauce.”

The students are confirming that the healthier recipes are proving the value of the visiting chef.

Cave Country Trails Inc.

Advocates for outdoor recreation in four counties around Mammoth Cave National Park are stepping up efforts to make the region a destination for ecotourism. Cave Country Trails has hired Helen Siewers as project director to guide the planning to link trails in Barren, Edmonson, Hart and Warren counties.

Siewers says there’s already a good foundation for the expanded trail network.  

"Starting with the existing 85 miles of trails that are within Mammoth Cave National Park, the goal is to develop a network of trails that connect to the park,” says Siewers. “Some are already in place, for example, at Nolin River State Park, Barren River Lake State Park, Munfordville, for example, Park City.”

Siewers says Kentucky has a lot going for it as far as ecotourism, starting with good climate much of the year for outdoor activities and all the traffic passing through on Interstate 65.

“A lot of those vehicles are carrying… there might mountain bikes, road bikes, kayaks, canoes," says Siewers. "And we have all the facilities right in this area to draw people to come and explore.”

Rhonda Miller, WKU Public Radio

Donald Trump is adding Kentucky to the list of states in his win column during the 2016 primary season.

Trump won Saturday's presidential caucus in the Bluegrass State with 35.9 percent of vote.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz placed second with 31.6 percent. Trump collected almost 10,000 more votes in Kentucky than Cruz.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was a distant third, with 16.4 percent, and Ohio Governor John Kasich was fourth, with 14.4 percent.

Both Warren and Daviess counties went for Cruz. He took 34 percent in Warren County, a seven point win over Trump. Cruz took Daviess County by 12 points over Trump. Hardin County Republicans narrowly went for Trump by one percent over Cruz.

Trump won Pulaski County by ten percent.

Long lines formed at caucus sites throughout the state Saturday, as Republicans gathered to choose their presidential pick. An official with the Warren County Republican Party estimated GOP turnout in that county at around 17.5 percent. By comparison, 16.2 percent of Kentucky Republicans participated in the 2012 presidential primary.

Owensboro Community and Technical College

A Daviess County college is trying to address the shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing in Kentucky.  Owensboro Community and Technical College breaks ground on its new $12 million  Industry Innovation Center on March 4. 

The new building will allow welding, electrical, and heating and air conditioning programs to move into state-of-the-art facilities.

College president Scott Williams says those programs will have some unique training that’s in demand for advanced manufacturing.   

“Robotic welding, robotics, we’ve never been able have those programs, because we’ve not had the room to do robotics,” says Williams.

“We now will have in this building a robotics lab. So students will learn how to use the robots for welding, as well as the maintenance of the robots,” he says.

The programs in the skilled trades programs will complement robotics and other training needed for business and industry.

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Kentucky had a slight increase in exports to countries around the world in 2015, compared to the previous year. The Bluegrass State stands out nationally because even though exports increased by less than one percent, most states decreased their exports last year. That’s according to WISERTrade.org, a Massachusetts company that collects international trade data. 

Aerospace products are Kentucky’s number one export, by dollar value.

Jack Mazurak is a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. He says $8.7 billion in aerospace products and parts were exported from a wide range of Kentucky companies.

“Small businesses that are engaged in extruding a plastic part that may be used on one particular plane, all the way up to multinational names, GE Aviation, GE Aircraft Engine Division. Boneal is another big name. Lockheed Martin has a facility here,” says Mazurak.

Motor vehicles were the state’s second most exported product, followed by pharmaceuticals. Exports from Kentucky last year totaled $27.6 billion dollars.

Canada held its place as Kentucky’s main destination for exports last year. America’s northern neighbor bought $7.2 billion in products and services from the Bluegrass State. Rounding out the top five destinations for Kentucky products are the United Kingdom, Mexico, China and France.

Radcliff Veterans Center

The new Radcliff Veterans Center that’s promising to be a national showplace for skilled nursing care is staffing up for its July opening.

Six members of the executive team are already working and the next phase of hiring was launched Feb. 22.

Administrator Israel Ray says five new leadership positions are posted.

“The director of nursing, which is called the nurse executive. And staff development, which will be listed as a registered nurse. The director of dining services. Our activities director and our housekeeping supervisor,” says Ray.

The veterans center is also looking for a medical director.

Construction is progressing at the new center, which is located on 192 park-like acres donated by Fort Knox.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Alon

In response to a national rise in suicide among middle-aged men, the Owensboro Regional Suicide  Prevention Coalition is launching an initiative to get businesses involved in training programs.

“We’ve developed a PowerPoint and a presentation and in the next month or so we’re going to present those to a couple of local business groups,” said Mike Flaherty, president of the coalition.

That presentation is a first step toward encouraging local businesses to develop suicide prevention programs. 

As the field of presidential contenders narrows, the Kentucky Republican Party is gearing up to make sure voters understand how to choose their candidate at next month’s caucus.  

The March 5 event is the first caucus held in the Bluegrass State in more than three decades.

The first requirement is that residents had to be registered to vote as a Republican by Dec. 31, 2015 in order to participate in the caucus.

Executive director of the Republican Party of Kentucky Mike Biagi says then it’s just a matter of finding the county caucus site.

National Corvette Museum

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is marking the second anniversary of a sinkhole collapse with a new multimedia exhibit. 

 The “Corvette Cave-In” installation opens Feb. 12, two years to the day that a sinkhole opened up beneath the museum and swallowed eight classic cars.

National Corvette Museum Education Coordinator Kellie Steen says one part of the exhibit gives visitors  a chance to experience the region’s karst geography, where limestone creates underground streams, caverns and sinkholes.

The Nature Conservancy

A Spanish energy company is considering a site in Kentucky for a hydroelectric power project. Energy Resources USA has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study a site in Warren County as a possible location for a hydropower plant. 

The location of the project would be at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Green River Lock and Dam No. 5. The application is for a preliminary permit.

“The sole purpose of a preliminary permit, if it’s issued, is to grant the holder of the permit priority over the site that they’re studying,” said Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It does not authorize any type of construction or operation of a project. It solely gives them priority over the site so they can do feasibility studies to determine if they want to develop a project.”

Kentucky is one of several locations being considered by Energy Resources USA. The company has already been issued two preliminary permits for sites on the Mississippi River. One is in Wisconsin and one is in Missouri. Energy Resources USA also has eight additional pending applications in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio. 

Flickr/Creative Commons/ U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Thousands of Kentucky residents have two months to look for work or job training to keep their food stamp benefits.  Anya Weber of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services says food stamp recipients have until April 1 to comply with the new requirements.  

"Able-bodied adults without dependents will need to meet a 20-hour work or training requirement," says Weber. "This is going to affect approximately 17,500 able-bodied adults in eight counties."

Those counties are Bullitt, Daviess, Fayette, Hardin, Henderson, Jefferson, McCracken and Warren.

New federal rules impacting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, went into effect Jan. 1.  Recipients affected by the changes were given a three-month grace period to find work or job training.

Weber said the changes will affect nearly 900 people in Warren County, more than 700 people in Hardin County and more than 600 people in Daviess County.

Owensboro Public Schools

Students in two Owensboro elementary schools now have new ways to cut down on fidgeting and concentrate on their work. That's thanks to new desks. 

Estes Elementary got 10 pedal desks for kindergarten classes. The desks look a little like a tricycle with a desk on top. They allow students to get a little exercise while learning.

Sutton Elementary got 39 standing desks that give students the choice of standing up or sitting on a stool. The desks are similar to what you might see in an art or design studio.

Fourth grade teacher Gina Davis has most of the standing desks in her classroom. 

"The students are definitely more focused and they love using them," says Davis. "Many students choose to stand the whole time. I've never said they have to stand or they have to sit, but they're choosing to do a lot of standing."

She’s been teaching for 20 years and says she’s already seen a difference since the new desks came in a few weeks ago.    

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