When it comes to improving its economy, an economist said Kentucky and the Elizabethtown area have several advantages including a pro-business and low-tax environment. The state also is in a prime spot logistically, within a day’s drive of the rest of the southeast, Texas and the midwest.
Augustine “Gus” Faucher, senior vice president of the PNC Financial Services Group, discussed several recent economic trends and what it means for the Elizabethtown metropolitan area Wednesday morning at the headquarters of Nolin Rural Electric Co-op.
While Faucher spoke of strengths, he also mentioned the Bluegrass State still is struggling in some areas.
“I think the area where it lags is in high-tech and in skilled workers,” he said. “So improving the educational system – and that’s everything from K through 12, vocational education, higher education, those types of things. Because the area where Kentucky is most lacking is in the supply of skilled workers. So I think that developing those skilled workers over time is going to be key to longer-run economic growth.”
In recent years, Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts and Elizabethtown Community and Technical College have made it a goal to help train students for the workforce, including preparation for high-tech careers.
Recently, Juston Pate, president of ECTC, expressed a desire to update the Occupational Technical Building of the college, which houses of its technical programs.
“OTB renovation is our No. 1 need, not just as a college, but as a region,” he said at a ECTC board of directors meeting last week. “Because when companies come to visit the training facilities, what they’re seeing in Greenville, South Carolina, and Franklin, Tennessee, and all these communities that have invested in their technical training – they’re seeing advanced manufacturing centers that are 21st century, truly. But when they come to see ours, they’re walking through 1964.”
Faucher also spoke of larger national trends and how they impacted Kentucky and Elizabethtown, such as coal production. About 6,500 coal miners were employed in Kentucky from October 2018 to December 2018, according to a report from the Energy and Environment Cabinet, and produced about 9.6 million tons of coal in that time frame. That is down significantly compared to the same time period in 2010, when Kentucky employed more than 17,000 in coal mines and produced nearly 26 million tons of coal.
“To the extent that Kentucky is a big coal producer, that has been a drag on the Kentucky economy,” Faucher said.
He also touched on current statewide issues such as the state’s pension system. Kentucky has about $33 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation.
Faucher said he did not know how to fix Kentucky’s pension problem, but said the current pension system is outdated and will require an overhaul.
“It’s going to require sacrifices on the part of current governmental employees, require sacrifices on the part of people who are retired now or will be retiring soon, and it may require sacrifices on the part of taxpayers as well,” he said.
The state legislature attempted to revamp Kentucky’s pension systems last year by passing Senate Bill 151, but it later was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court on procedural grounds. This year, the state legislature once again is expected to address the Kentucky’s pension shortfall.