Since the legislative session is over, I have been able to spend more time in the district speaking with people around our community. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from constituents about their concerns, as well as how the legislation we pass in Frankfort impacts us here in Christian and Trigg counties.
I consistently receive questions about jobs, workforce development, and the economy. These are important issues and I want to take a moment and share a little about the state of our economy, and steps we took this past legislative session to encourage workforce development.
We have made significant, and noteworthy improvements overall. The statewide unemployment rate has fallen to a record low of 4.0 percent and dropped in 94 counties. This spring, announcements about companies investing in Kentucky have headlined newspapers across the state. These announcements include the creation of 400 new jobs at the Bowling Green General Motors plant; a $1.35 billion investment by the nation’s largest steel producer, Nucor Corp., that will lead to 400 new jobs in Meade County; a $10 million investment by Manchester Tank and Equipment that is expected to create 175 new jobs in Campbellsville; and a $200 million commitment towards a Braidy Industries aluminum mill that is expected to bring 600 jobs to the Ashland area. Some of these exciting announcements have come as a result of job-friendly changes to our tax code and regulatory structure, which I have been proud to support.
These announcements are great news for our state and proof that the work we are doing is paying off for Kentucky. But, the task of job creation is never ending and constantly changing – just like the jobs themselves. We must address our low workforce participation rate. The workforce participation rate measures the percentage of Kentuckians who are of working age that are actively working or seeking a job. Ours is 60.7 percent, and that means around 40 percent of Kentuckians are not able to provide for themselves or contribute to the economy. Comparatively, the national workforce participation rate is 65.9 percent, and we are well behind our neighboring states.
To encourage growth in our workforce, the General Assembly passed several key pieces of legislation that will ensure people have greater access to job training. We passed HB 61, which allows Kentucky students to apply KEES scholarship money toward a qualifying apprenticeship or qualified workforce training program. This bill expands the use of a proven, effective tool to prepare individual students for their chosen vocation. It ensures that students have access to a workforce training program that will lead to a valuable, and lucrative career.
Another important piece of legislation we passed was the Keep Kentuckians Working Act. HB 118 prevents occupational licensing authorities from revoking an individual’s license to work purely because they defaulted or became delinquent on their student loan or work-conditioned scholarship. It makes no sense to take away someone’s livelihood and means to potentially pay back their debt because of a temporary financial setback. There are better, more appropriate measures available to address this issue while still ensuring that someone is able to have a job and meet their financial needs.
We also increased access to job training and education by creating the Work Ready Scholarship Program. This program ensures that all eligible Kentuckians have affordable access to an industry-recognized certificate, diploma, or associate of applied science degree. The scholarship is available to eligible dual credit high school students who want to earn college hours, or eligible workforce students who have not earned an associate’s degree. This gives more individuals the opportunity to pursue job training that will lead straight into the workforce and a well-paying, rewarding career.
As I hope you can see, we have been working hard to put the “open for business” sign up in our state, a reality reflected by our low unemployment rate and growing economy. But this is just the beginning and we have more to do in future sessions. If you would like to share your thoughts on job creation, or any other issue, please reach out to me. I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature’s website www.legislature.ky.gov.