The leader of an Eastern Kentucky organization says displaced Appalachian workers provide a good fit for many employers.
Those comments came from the CEO of One East Kentucky during last week’s East Kentucky Leadership Conference.
Chuck Sexton is CEO of the nine-county organization focused on recruiting industry and investment for Eastern Kentucky.
Sexton says a recent workforce study shows many prospective workers in Appalachia have high mechanical inclinations. He says that makes them attractive to companies looking for a skilled workforce. “We talk about 10,000 available skilled workers who’ve lost their jobs in the past few years, who are hungry for work and they want to work in something they can be proud of. They want to make things,” said Sexton. “They want to do things with their hands.”
Sexton says generational poverty and drug problems are not major barriers for displaced Appalachian workers seeking new employment. “When I talk to companies in Detroit, Indiana, Chicago, California, Dallas, those same issues are on their minds there. Can we find people to pass a drug test,” explained Sexton.
The One East Kentucky executive says new academic programs may be needed to train tomorrow’s workforce at schools like Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
Brad Thomas also appeared on the Friday panel as part of the conference at Eastern Kentucky University. Thomas says many Kentuckians don’t grasp the significance of those economic drivers. “In the economic development world, I always say we punch above our weight,” noted Thomas. “If you think about the size of our state and to think we have four automotive manufacturing facilities and almost 600 aerospace companies, it’s a Kentucky that most Kentuckians don’t recognize.”
Thomas says, with the Kentucky Derby approaching, much attention focuses on the horse business, but he argues advanced manufacturing really drives the state’s economy.
The 2017 East Kentucky Leadership Conference was held last Thursday and Friday on the Richmond campus.