A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rep. Mike Denham: When making the state better, business, employment go together

FRANKFORT – Although there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go to recover fully from the national recession that began seven years ago, there have been some encouraging signs in recent days.
Early last week, for example, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the economy grew by five percent between July and September, the fastest quarterly uptick in a decade.
A day earlier, meanwhile, the Gallup Poll said that 36 percent of Americans believe now is a good time to find what the poll calls a “quality job.” That may seem low, but it is the best we have seen since November 2007, and is far above the eight percent rate the poll showed just two years ago.
Gallup added that there is more optimism among younger adults than those over 50, but there is little difference between those with and without a college degree, indicating new-job prospects are broad-based.
One area where Kentucky has outpaced most states is the decline in unemployment. November’s seasonally adjusted rate of six percent was 2.1 points lower than it was a year earlier, making it the steepest drop we have seen in more than three decades. Only five states have had more success in this area over the past year, but one concern economists have is that part of our lower rate is due to people dropping out of the workforce, something we need to reverse.
The good news is that the decline in unemployment is not isolated in certain areas of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate was lower in all 120 counties in August, September and October when compared to the same three months in 2013, and we missed a statewide sweep by just one county in November. It is worth noting that this 120-county decline had never occurred prior to this summer.
The Buffalo Trace region, which is comprised of Bracken, Fleming, Lewis, Mason and Robertson counties, has experienced a bigger drop than the state as a whole, with our unemployment rate going down almost three percentage points between November 2013 and November 2014. Only one of the other 11 area development districts did better and another tied with our decline.
According to a federal survey of business establishments that excludes agriculture and the self-employed, Kentucky has added almost 39,000 jobs over the past year.
That includes almost 11,000 new jobs in the professional and business-services sector, companies that help other companies; 5,300 new jobs in healthcare; and 2,700 new jobs in manufacturing.
The construction industry, unfortunately, is still facing tough times. Although it added nearly 1,000 jobs from October to November, its workforce is still below where it was a year ago. In our area, Green Tokai, Mitsubishi, and Ridley have all announced expansions. Also, Federal Mogul has reversed its decision to close its Maysville plant and develop a new strategy for that plant.
In related unemployment news, Gov. Steve Beshear announced in late November that our employers would not have to pay an additional $112 million tied to a nearly $1 billion federal loan Kentucky borrowed in 2009 to cover unemployment payments during the recession.
Under a legislative plan adopted in 2012, our businesses have whittled this loan down to less than $340 million, putting us well ahead of the scheduled pay-back.
Not all states have been as fortunate. Ohio, for one, still owes $1.38 billion, and its businesses will have to pay an extra $84 per employee in 2015.
Overall, 2014 has turned out to be one of the better years Kentucky’s businesses have seen in a long time. In addition to the job gains, they’re exporting nearly 10 percent more than last year’s record $25 billion; new-business start-ups are out-pacing nearly every other state; and Site Selection magazine – a trade publication that monitors industrial growth – recently put Kentucky eighth in business climate.
As we ready for 2015, the General Assembly will continue looking for ways to help our businesses build on these accomplishments while making sure they reach all areas of the state. We cannot afford to leave any region behind.
I hope to hear from you soon, and I hope you have a Happy New Year.

1 mike denham

Rep. Mike Denham, a Democrat from Maysville, has represented House District 70 (Bracken, Fleming and Mason counties) since 2001.

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