Economy

WKU Public Radio

The Kentucky General Assembly is on track to approve legislation to make Kentucky a so-called right-to-work state by Saturday night. For Republicans, this is the culmination of years of championing the issue.

The bill passed the House Thursday, and assuming it passes the GOP-controlled Senate and is signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky will become the 27th so-called right-to-work state in the nation.

Picturing The Future: A Coal Community’s Comeback

Jan 2, 2017
Rebecca Kiger

Can a photograph help a community grow? One photographer is shedding some light on ongoing efforts in a region looking for some new ways to sustain itself.

Rebecca Kiger is a documentary and portrait photographer born and raised in West Virginia. The images she captures are often exceptionally emotionally evocative. She says it takes a lot of patience, and a little faith in both her process and her subjects.

“You have to imagine anything’s possible,” Kiger said while mousing over some of her recent images at her studio in Wheeling, West Virginia. “It allows these magical things to happen in the frame.”

Erica Peterson

Residents of Kentucky’s coal counties are holding out hope that next year will bring the passage of the RECLAIM Act — legislation meant to free a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.

The original RECLAIM Act was introduced in February by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and 27 other representatives. But despite its bipartisan support, the bill never moved out of committee. Now, another version has been introduced in the Senate.

Owensboro Convention Center

Construction on a new hotel in downtown Owensboro will begin next summer. The new hotel will hold 110 to 120 rooms. The Owensboro Messenger Inquirer reports it will bring the number of rooms within a block of the convention center to about four hundred.

One of the project’s partners, Jack Wells, said the brand of the new hotel will be announced in a few months. The project should includes up to 160 new apartments but those plans are flexible. Wells said the estimated cost will be more than $33 million. He expects construction to be complete in the summer of 2018.

Report: Kentucky Has Room To Grow In STEM Jobs

Dec 15, 2016
Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Technology and innovation are buzzy terms often associated with places like Silicon Valley, Austin and the East Coast. But a report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation wants to break that perception.

The D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank calls the report “High-Tech Nation.” It was released last month from data compiled at the beginning of the summer of 2016. Data come from sources such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

US Army Corps of Engineers

A bill transferring control of infrastructure on the Barren and Green rivers to local communities has passed the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement the legislation will give more control to Kentucky communities and help with flood protection in Paducah.

The bill will transfer control of inoperable locks and dams along Barren and Green rivers from the U.S. Army Corps of engineers to state and local entities. That will allow local communities to do necessary repairs and maintenance.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

During the presidential campaign I visited two regional manufacturing executives who do business in the same county but hold views on trade that are worlds apart. Now that Donald Trump is the president-elect, I asked them and some regional economists how the new administration’s approach to trade might affect the Ohio Valley region.


becca schimmel

Congressional leaders have included short-term funding for health care benefits for retired miners in a must-pass spending bill this week. If approved that would buy some time for thousands of miners in the Ohio Valley region whose benefits would otherwise expire at the end of the year.  

Flickr/Creative Commons

After an election season in which both major political parties bashed free trade deals, the mayors of Kentucky’s two largest cities have renewed their initiative to attract foreign investment to — and exports from — the region.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Lexington and Louisville need to join forces to be relevant on the global stage.

“We need to work together so we can present a unified force to the world that would allow us to better compete together for our whole state,” Fischer said during a news conference on Monday.

Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray formed the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) in 2011 to help create more international opportunities for businesses in a 22 county area around the cities.

On Monday, the mayors announced a plan to attract and retain companies that command higher wages, like those in the chemical, life science, software and IT industries, and create more workforce training programs like Code Louisville and Awesome Inc. in Lexington.

Robert McGraw/WOUB

The electoral map of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia is a sea of red with a few islands of blue. Of the 263 counties in the three states only nine went for Hillary Clinton, most of them around the region’s cities.

The Ohio Valley ReSource looked to voters and voting data to learn more about what motivated Donald Trump’s supporters and what they hope he will do as president.

“More than Obama did!” Judy Collier said from a grocery story parking lot in Whitesburg, Kentucky. “We need jobs.”

“I don’t think Trump is some savior,” Athens County, Ohio, native Rebecca Keller said. “But he is somebody with a different perspective.”

“I will keep my fingers crossed that he can effect some real change in this country,” Jack Rose said in Wheeling, West Virginia.

US Army Corps of Engineers

A recent breakdown at an Ohio River dam served as a wake-up call about the aging infrastructure that keeps river commerce flowing. The Ohio is one of the country’s busiest working rivers and some navigation controls are approaching the century mark. I went to see these ailing structures and a new multi-billion dollar project in the works.

Barges are once again moving through this section of the Ohio near Paducah, Kentucky, after a failure at the aging Lock and Dam Number 52 forced a two-day closure in September.

“It’s one of the busiest locations on the inland waterways,” said Army Corp of Engineers Colonel Christopher Beck. “We pass about 90 million tons of cargo through here every year. So it’s critical to both this region, to industry and the nation.”

Lock and Dam 52 uses wooden structures called wickets that work a bit like a bathtub to keep the river at the depth needed for boat traffic. When three wickets broke free of their bases and even more wouldn’t cooperate, a hole let too much water through. That threatened both navigability and a water intake facility used by nearby chemical manufacturing plants.

Jacob Ryan

Kentucky’s labor secretary is trying to get more employers to offer apprenticeship programs that provide employment and on-the-job training for new workers entering an industry.

There are currently about 1,100 employers that have registered apprenticeship programs in Kentucky, employing about 3,000 people.

Derrick Ramsey, secretary of the Labor Cabinet, said apprenticeship programs will help train Kentucky’s workforce and attract new businesses.

“’If we do not have skilled workers, I don’t think businesses are going to move here,” Ramsey said. “And by the way, in most cases with businesses, they don’t want to come here and then train that worker, they want to have them trained before they come here.”

Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with formal instruction and usually last four years. Employers work with the Labor Cabinet to design the training program and sign a contract with each apprentice — the contract is registered with the state and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

The Democratic candidate for governor in West Virginia has never held public office. Jim Justice is instead running on his record as a businessman. He runs coal mines, farms, and a luxury resort, and according to Forbes, he’s also the wealthiest person in the state, worth $1.56 billion.

A review of records by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource shows that his coal companies owe more than $12 million in overdue county, state, and federal taxes, as well as over $2 million for mine safety violations. Add a lengthy list of environmental violations and damaged mine sites, and a pattern emerges: Justice’s business liabilities have in many cases become public liabilities, and the costs often fall hardest on already cash-strapped communities in the Appalachian coalfields.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Bowling Green, Kentucky is one of twelve refugee resettlement areas in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. The International Center of Kentucky, in Bowling Green, will be resettling forty Syrian refugees this month. Those new arrivals will join a community of more than 10,000 asylum seekers from around the world the center has helped to resettle since beginning operation in 1981.

Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Becca Schimmel recently sat down with a former refugee to better understand his journey, and how the small business he has started is creating a community of support for new refugees.

 

From the Middle East to the Midwest

In 2013 Wisam Asal opened Jasmine International Grocery, a small family run store with sweets, religious items and food from many countries.

Creative Commons

Along with the gender and racial wage gap, income disparities may also exist within the same profession. And the education divide may be a factor.

If you’re a bartender, for example, with a Bachelor’s degree — a job that doesn’t require it — you still might earn more than a bartender without a degree. That’s according to Dewayne Matthews, vice president of strategy development at Lumina Foundation, an organization seeking to increase the number of Americans with a post-secondary degree or other recognized credential to 60 percent by 2025. Currently, a little more than 40 percent of Americans aged 25 and older hold an Associate degree.

Matthews says economic growth is dependent upon the skill level of the population.

“We’re at a knowledge economy,” he says. “And the demand for the people who have the necessary knowledge and skills is what’s really driving the economy.”

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