economy

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The billionaire Wilbur Ross is headed for Senate confirmation hearings as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of the Department of Commerce. Ross made it to ultra-rich status in part by salvaging coal and steel assets in Appalachia and the Rust Belt.

His business dealings leave a mixed legacy in the Ohio Valley region, from rescued steel mills to the site of a searing workplace disaster, and raise questions about the leadership he would bring to the president’s cabinet.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Communities around Fort Knox have launched a capital campaign to help grow the Hardin County army post and the regional economy. 

A new partnership called the Knox Regional Development Alliance was announced Thursday in Elizabethtown.  Co-chairman Ray Springsteen said part of the goal is to bring new missions to the post and retain existing ones.

"A few years ago, we certainly had some contraction in the military, and in some cases, this is driven by that," Springsteen told WKU Public Radio.  "Instead of us reacting when there's a problem, someone is getting up every day, going out, and finding ways to protect this incredible asset."

Another goal of the alliance is to attract and retain military-related businesses to Hardin, Meade, Larue, Bullitt, and Jefferson counties.

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.

Naomi McCulloch

J.D. Vance's memoir of growing up poor in Appalachia, both in Kentucky and Ohio, Hillbilly Elegy, has been on the New York Times best-seller list since it came out early this summer.

It's the story of his life, but also the story of white, working-class "hillbillies"--people he describes as having a very deep affiliation with Appalachia and the communities that make up the region.

Vance says the "elegy" in the book's title doesn't imply the death of the culture but it shows a "sad reflection" of parts of the area. "It's important to note it's not what's going on in every part of hillbilly country," he says. "There are some good things along with the bad. But there are some very significant problems."

Vance admittedly had a lot of things work out for him. He joined the Marines right out of high school, graduated from Ohio State University right after that and then onto Yale Law School. "This isn't a 'boot-strap' story about how one kid through grit and determination and brain power made it," he says. "It's more a story of how one kid got really lucky. People feel pretty kicked and down in this part of the world, the world has been tough in this area."

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.”

Census: Incomes Continue To Climb In The Commonwealth

Sep 16, 2016
Thinkstock

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:

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.

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.

Kentucky Labor Cabinet

Governor Matt Bevin’s administration is counting on a growing apprenticeship program to help fill Kentucky’s future workforce needs.

More than 1,100 Kentucky employers are currently partnering with the state to provide apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeships allow high school upperclassmen and those who have a GED to gain on-the-job training tailored to a company’s needs.

Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey is touring the state in an effort to encourage more companies and schools to participate in the effort. He says a wide variety of skills can be learned through the program.

“When we talk about the skills, and when we talk about the apprenticeships, we're not only talking about construction--road construction, building construction,” Ramsey said in Bowling Green Wednesday. “We're talking about I.T.--we're apprenticing that, as well. We're talking about health care."

Ramsey says those learning blue-collar skills in the apprenticeship program could help build the next generation of roads and bridges in the commonwealth.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Trade has emerged as a potent issue this election season, with the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a flash point in the political debate. The stakes are high for the Ohio Valley region, where thousands of workers and billions of dollars in goods could be affected by the outcome of this trade agreement.

Very different sides of the trade story can be found at  two manufacturing companies in southern Kentucky: conveyer-belt maker Span-Tech and auto parts maker Trace Die Cast.

These businesses are just 30 miles from each other, but when it comes to their views on trade, they’re worlds apart. Their differences can tell us a lot about why trade is such a contentious issue and what it means for our region.

Pages