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

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:

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.”

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.


We’ve all heard it before: The best time to start saving for retirement was yesterday.

But many workers, particularly young, low-income and part-time workers, are more likely to not have a retirement plan through their jobs.

Nearly half of private sector employees ages 25 to 64 in Kentucky work for a company that does not offer a retirement plan. That’s approximately 566,780 people, according to a new report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.  

“States are needing to step in,” says Ashley Spalding, research and policy associate at the center. 

Spaulding authored the study, which recommends a state-sponsored plan that would automatically deduct savings out of a worker’s check.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Mark Muro is having a conversation with someone in a bar. The person’s in their late twenties and is having trouble finding work. Maybe they have a high school diploma. Mark’s advice? Enroll in the closest community college you can.


Auto manufacturing and digital services are some of the industries contributing to Kentucky’s economic growth. And you don’t need a Master’s or PhD to get a job in these areas.

“STEM workers are crucial to regional prosperity and advanced industry success but they don’t all need to have to have college degrees,” says Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Muro did a study tracking the growth of advanced industries. Blue-collar STEM jobs fall under these industries, which employ more than 170,000 people in Kentucky. The average salary in an advanced industry is just over $65,000 in the commonwealth. That compares with almost $42,000 for all other industries.

Report: Kentucky Coal Jobs Hit Lowest Level Since 1898

Aug 4, 2016
Erica Peterson

Officials believe there are fewer coal jobs in Kentucky than there have been in more than 115 years.

News outlets report that a quarterly report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet reveals that the number of coal jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent from April to June of this year.

In western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016 while the number of jobs in the state's eastern region dropped 6.1 percent during that same time.

As of July 1, the estimated number of coal jobs remaining in Kentucky was 6,465, which officials say is the lowest mark since 1898.

A switch to natural gas, stricter federal regulations on coal designed to preserve the environment and the advance of renewable energy have contributed to the industry's plunge.

Tennessee Valley Authority

The number of coal jobs in Kentucky continue to decline.  A report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet says the number of jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent.

In Western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent from April to June. The amount of coal produced in that region declined 12.3 percent. Production in the state’s eastern coalfield is the lowest it’s been since 1915.

Kentucky now has less miners than in 1898, before the extension of railroads allowed for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

Analysts say there are a number of reasons for the decline, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality and the growth of renewable energy sources.


You are Letcher County, Kentucky. You are rural, mountainous, and in the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. Your economy is not in good shape. Fox News has called your largest town “the poster child for the war on coal.” You are offered funds to build a new federal prison. It could bring jobs but also brings up troubling moral issues. What do you do?

Call it the prison builder’s dilemma: Letcher County and other rural areas are wrestling with a choice between a potential economic boost and the ethical burden of becoming the nation’s jailers.

Coalfield economies have been hit hard by the industry’s recent decline and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District has been among the most affected. Today it has the second-lowest median household income in the country, and the second-lowest rate of labor force participation.

In recent years, a big chunk of the money flowing into the region has come through the Bureau of Prisons. Three federal penitentiaries have been built in the district, and now, money has been set aside to build a fourth — in Letcher County.