I was asked on Facebook recently what I was going to do do bring more jobs to Barren County. This was my answer.
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It’s a great question and I’m happy to answer. But don’t expect a “silver bullet” answer as the situation is too complex for a simple answer.
The main way is to work with the County Government, City Governments and the Glasgow / Barren IDEA (Industrial Development Economic Authority) to
a) recruit new businesses and,
b) maintain current businesses.
IDEA here in Barren County has been fairly ineffective in the past few years, in my opinion. With the selection of the new Executive Director, Maureen Carpenter, hopefully, things will improve. She brings a lot of experience from the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce and you can see how much growth Bowling Green is experiencing.
More specifically, once IDEA identifies a business looking for a new location or to relocate, my job would be to work with them to build an incentive package using state resources I might have access to, along with the County (and City) bringing their resources to the table – such as zoning changes, loan capability, tax credits, etc. This would most likely include phone calls to CEOs, scheduling location visits, visits with their executives, etc., and as State Representative for me to be involved every step of the way, as far as the local governments and programs want me to be, to try and persuade the company to locate here. Or if while in office I come across a business looking to relocate to Kentucky, my job is to advocate strongly for District 23 and to bring that information to the city/county.
But finding and courting these new jobs is useless unless all of us in District 23 address some serious concerns:
1) Glasgow and Barren County can’t fill all the jobs they have now.
Do an online Indeed.com job search for “Barren County” and you will find 785 jobs listed (as of Feb. 3, 2020). Sure, some are part-time and low paying (such as fast food, etc) but still – they aren’t getting filled. Or check with Kentucky Career Center on North Green Street about how many open jobs they have. What factory wants to locate in a place where other employers already there can’t fill their current employment needs?
2) The jobs we DO have pay too little.
Nearly 30% of Glasgow citizens live at the poverty level or below. (https://datausa.io/profile/geo/glasgow-ky). The federal HHS Department classifies as poverty level a family of 4 whose income of $26,200.00 or less. For each person above 4, add $4,480.00 per person. So, a family of 6 would need to make $35,160.00. That would work out to an hourly wage of approximately $35,160.00 / 52 weeks per year / 40 hours per week = $16.90 / hour. How many jobs do you know of in this area that pay nearly $17.00 per hour? And I know of lots of families in District 23 that have even more than six members (that would be Mom, Dad, and 4 kids).
This is the problem behind the spin we keep hearing from Washington that “unemployment is at an all-time low”. It is. Because people are having to work multiple, low paying jobs with non-existent benefits just to make ends meet. The number of people working isn’t what matters. What matters is that they are making a decent wage to have a decent quality of life without having to work 60+ hours a week doing multiple jobs. I get tired of hearing the excuse “Well, that’s what I’ve had to do!”. Guess what? It wasn’t right that you had to do it either! We need to make changes to give everyone a decent life. Not making things better for the next person simply because you didn’t have it “as good” is a pathetic excuse for progress. Treating everyone fairly and decently in terms of employment is NOT a handout. It’s a necessity if we want to grow and prosper.
3) Another problem we are facing that affects employment is employee retention.
The biggest problem here is the meth and opioid crisis across the state. Far too many of our citizens can’t hold a job because they miss too many days of work. Talk to the management of any factory to hear about this. What employer is going to want to locate where this is an unreliable workforce – when they can get one at all? John Doe, who is addicted to opioids, gets a job at low pay and no benefits, can’t make it to work regularly and gets fired – there is certainly no incentive to try hard. Then gets hired somewhere else that has low pay and no benefits that can’t fill their open jobs with quality help but needs the spot filled nonetheless. Then he can’t make that job work out and gets fired there. And the cycle continues. We need to address the drug problem in our community to help the employment situation in our community.
4) We also need to diversify job opportunities is the area.
All I ever seem to hear about is “We need to bring more factories here”. There is nothing wrong with factory and blue-collar jobs – but we can’t just focus on just that. That’s just putting all your eggs in one basket. Just look at the loss of Dana, Sitel, and now LSC Communications. We need to encourage other types of business to locate here. Agribusiness. White-collar. Tech. Build on the great medical industry we already have. Encourage small businesses. Not just look to bring another large automotive parts related factory here. We think “factories” first since those typically employ hundreds of people. But we can’t discount the small business that employs 10 people. In general, that money tends to stay here in our community and not go to some corporate headquarters somewhere. 15 small businesses could easily employ 150+ people. And if one of those closes, we lose only a few jobs – not over 700. We need all types of business, so we have multiple legs to stand on financially so that when one fails, it’s not a catastrophe. Losing LSC is very much near a catastrophe for us at that’s 700 jobs going away by June.
So, what’s the plan for those LSC employees? I’ve seen several other businesses advertise that they will hire those they can – that fit their needs. But I’m guessing less than 50 people will be absorbed that way. As Representative, I would be turning to the State to see about some emergency funding for retraining services. Is there some federal aid to apply for?
5) We also need to end the war being waged on organized labor and unions.
I grew up in a union house and experienced the benefits first-hand. The power of collective bargaining gives the average worker, especially blue-collar workers, the strength they need to negotiate with employers that are often more concerned with stock dividends and CEO salaries than whether or not you can pay your medical bills or mortgage. Just look at the recent GM strike where 46,000 UAW (about 900 at the Corvette Plant in Bowling Green) went on strike. The Union had agreed to many cuts and concessions during the Republican caused recession where the entire automotive industry had nearly failed. They did that to save the industry, and in turn, their jobs, by making a sacrifice. And now that the industry has recovered and is making billions of dollars in record profits, the workers wanted to regain what they had lost. And GM said “No”. Imagine what your recourse would be at work as a single worker if you agreed to reduce your salary for a year in order to save the company and your job, and you came back a year later and said you wanted your salary to go back up as the company was doing great now (thanks in part to you) and your employer said “No.” What are your options? Get mad? Threaten to quit? The employer wouldn’t care as you can be replaced. You are just one person. They’d say, “Go ahead and quit then”. You have NO power on your own. But now imagine that you walked into the employer’s office to get your salary back with 46,000 of your coworkers. THAT is the power of Unions and collective bargaining.
Who knows – if LSC Communications had been a Union shop, maybe as a whole something could have been negotiated that would have allowed the plant to stay open. But that was not a discussion that could happen because those 700 people didn’t have a unified voice to speak with. Management didn’t owe its employees anything and they have no voice to demand anything.
6) We also need to make our community more attractive to businesses.
Let me ask you, in all seriousness, what is the number one thing that you think attracts industry to Barren County as we exist now? I know I don’t know. And therein, for me, lies the problem. I sat in on the Glasgow Strategic Plan meeting presentation last Tuesday. There were lots of good ideas presented, but my key takeaway was “Who is Glasgow”? Who are we? What are we known for? Or better yet, what do we WANT to be known for? THAT is something we need to address before we can successfully sell ourselves to others. Glasgow and Barren County don’t have an identity. We were voted best rural community to live in by The Progressive Farmer magazine 13 years ago. We are also known for our Scottish heritage. But we were also known as the poorest town in KY by an article in USA Today in 2018. The article states “…that Glasgow is the only town in Kentucky where the typical household earns less than thirty-thousand dollars a year. Glasgow also has a poverty rate of nearly 27 percent, which is also higher than any other town in the state”. (WNKY, 05/09/2018) So, who are we? Until we know that, how do we tell anyone else?
Note: I never received a response from the person who asked the question.