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It’s still early, but Kentucky’s economy is starting to show some solid signs of recovery.
Late last month, for example, the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet reported that September’s unemployment rates were down in 95 of our 120 counties when compared to September 2009.
The Cabinet for Economic Development, meanwhile, says that, from the start of the year through September, dozens of companies across the Commonwealth had announced more than $1.13 billion in expansions that are projected to generate 6,600 jobs.
During a recent meeting of the General Assembly’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee, state budget officials told my colleagues that the job market appears to have hit rock bottom early this year but is expected to see steady gains during the next two years. It will still take some time, though, before we reach the decade’s high point of 1.87 million jobs, which came in early 2008.
A recent survey of Kentucky manufacturers found that over half said they plan to hire as many as 19 new employees in the coming year, a definite improvement from last year’s survey. There is also a greater focus on environment awareness; nearly 70 percent said they were training their workforce to do more with less in an effort to conserve energy and resources.
Budget officials say our diverse manufacturing base is one of the key reasons why Kentucky has fared better than many other states during the toughest economy since the Great Depression. They cited a relatively stable housing market and robust coal prices as two others.
There is another factor also worth noting: our positive business climate. The non-partisan Tax Foundation just ranked us 19th best among the states in business taxes, while the General Assembly’s 2009 overhaul of our tax incentives has led to more than 200 companies receiving at least preliminary approval in little more than a year.
Gains in education need to be factored in as well. A just-released study of the 2008 class of high school seniors found that two-thirds went on to college, while significantly fewer needed remedial help than those seniors who graduated in 2002.
Earlier this summer, the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet gave us a clearer picture of what kind of job market we can expect in the long run here in Kentucky. Between 2008 and 2018, it forecasts us picking up nearly 149,000 jobs, which is more than we saw from 1998 to 2008.
Healthcare-related jobs are expected to see the greatest growth, in part because of our aging population. We can expect the trend toward service-related jobs to continue, plus the growing need for postsecondary training.
As the job market moves forward, the state’s budget is seeing positive signs of life as well. During the Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting, budget officials said state revenues have grown during the last six months, after 15 months of decline. So far at least, we are on target to complete the fiscal year with a little left over. Even better news can be found in our road fund, which has grown significantly this year after nearly two years of decline.
In their report on the first three months of the current fiscal year, state budget officials were optimistic but cautious. They said the state’s budget should be seen as being “right on course” rather than being “significantly ahead of schedule.”
Still, after what we have dealt with economically, this is far better news than we have heard in quite some time. Hopefully, we will be able to build on those gains even further in the months ahead.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.