Economy

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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.

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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.”

David Goldman/AP

After a 330,000-gallon spill shut down a gasoline pipeline in Alabama Sept. 9, fuel shortages and high gas prices are occurring across the southern United States this week, NPR member stations report.

Emily Siner of Nashville's WPLN tells NPR's Newscast that prices there have risen about 20 cents per gallon since Thursday, and officials are urging drivers not to fill up unless they need to.

"The closure is already affecting some stations in the state. An employee at a Shell station in Columbia told WPLN that it was out of gas for about two hours Friday morning until a new shipment came in."

Siner interviewed Nashville driver Brett Kern — who happens to be a Tennessee Titans football player — who told her he was almost on empty when he finally found gas at a station off I-65.

"I was 0 for 6 on Saturday, 0 for 3 yesterday, and then I called about four stations this morning," Kern said. "This was the first one that had it."

Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst at GasBuddy.com, told Siner that Tennessee can get gas from the Midwest or a Memphis refinery, but supplies are harder to come by in other states, including Georgia.

Census: Incomes Continue To Climb In The Commonwealth

Sep 16, 2016
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Days after the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing Americans’ incomes were up by 5.2 percent from 2014-15 — the first significant increase since the Great Recession — the agency issued region-specific numbers.

The data, released Thursday, comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Here are three things to know about the changes in Kentucky:

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Kentucky’s statewide broadband internet project, KentuckyWired, will be complete by mid-2019, according to Gov. Matt Bevin.

The $324 million public-private project is a collaboration between the state and private partners, who will operate and maintain the network for 30 years, charging the state about $28.5 million and up per year. After 30 years, Kentucky will own the network.

During a news conference Friday, Bevin said the project will help make Kentucky the “hub of excellence for America.”

“It cannot happen without broadband, it cannot happen without a strong technological infrastructure,” he said.

The project will stretch 3,000-miles of fiber optic cable to build out the “middle mile” of a statewide broadband network. Cities and businesses across the state will be in charge of building out the “last mile” to connect services to customers.

An Alpha Natural Resources spokesman says the company plans to lay off 117 people when it shuts down a Kentucky coal mine in November.

Spokesman Steve Hawkins tells the Lexington Herald-Leader  that the company has issued a required 60-day layoff notice at the Process Energy Mine in Pike County, which is set to be closed on Nov. 7.

Hawkins says dismal market conditions are the reason for the layoffs.

He says the Process Energy mine is Alpha's last active mine in Kentucky. The Bristol, Virginia-based company has 18 mines in West Virginia.

TaxCredits.net

Things are looking up for some Kentucky workers. That’s according to a new report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The study says unemployment in 2015 returned to its pre-recession rate of 5.4 percent. The report also found that the gender wage gap is narrowing in the commonwealth. 

In 2015, women in Kentucky earned 86 cents to every dollar that men earned. That’s compared to 81 cents in 2014 and a mere 62 cents in 1979. A big part of that shift, according to the report, is that things have gotten worse for men. Many well-paying jobs in Kentucky typically held by men — including construction, manufacturing and mining jobs — have disappeared.

“Those have typically provided good jobs to men, especially with lower levels of education,” said Anna Baumann, co-author of the report and policy analyst at the center.

Becca Schimmel

Thousands of retired coal miners will rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to urge Congress to shore up a fund that supports their pensions and benefits. Area lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were at the National Press Club in Washington to speak in support of the Miner’s Protection Act.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin called for an immediate markup and passage of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for most of the year. Manchin wants Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, to work together to pass the bill.  

All we’re asking for is the compassion to do the right thing, fulfill the commitment, a promise that was made,” Manchin said.

Manchin is referring to a pledge dating to the 1940s, when Congress intervened in a national coal strike and established a health and welfare fund for miners. The agreement used royalties on coal production to create a retirement fund for miners and their dependents in cases of sickness, disability, death and retirement.

Frankie Steele

A controversial biomass plant proposed for Eastern Kentucky has moved closer to extinction following a ruling Thursday by the state Public Service Commission.

The PSC rescinded an order that allowed the $1.26 billion wood-burning project to proceed. The move came in response to a state court of appeals decision last month that deemed the plant unnecessary and likely to cause an undue economic burden on the region’s residents.

“As a result, it has no future, thankfully,” said Michael Kurtz, the Cincinnati attorney representing Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers Inc., an association of major energy-consuming companies that had filed suit to contest the PSC’s decision.

“The plant could only be financed and built if the businesses and poor people of Eastern Kentucky were forced to subsidize this grossly uneconomic project,” Kurtz said, adding that the project would have helped only “politically-connected developers.”

TaxCredits.net

Kentucky’s unemployment rate is now at the lowest point in 15 years.  Figures released Thursday by the state show that the July unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, the lowest in Kentucky since May 2001. 

The state is now on par with the national average which also posted a 4.9 percent jobless rate last month.  Manoj Shanker, an economist at the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, says Kentucky is at nearly full employment.

"When the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, that means that anybody who really wants a job has a job," Shanker told WKU Public Radio.

On the flip side, the low jobless rate can present a challenge for employers, making it difficult for them to find workers without raising wages or bringing them in from other states. 

Kentucky’s strongest job sector continues to be manufacturing followed by the financial activities sector.  The retail trade, construction and government sector all reported losses last month.

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