Where is state leadership in E. Ky. job loss?

September 17, 2013

Since early March, Kentucky has added hundreds of jobs in places like Louisville, Elizabethtown, Winchester, and Fulton. Here in Eastern Kentucky, however, it’s just the opposite.

News on Monday of more than 500 employees of James River Coal being furloughed in the region shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone paying attention to the local coal market for the past two years. A dwindling demand, due in part to cheap natural gas, coupled with federal regulations have supplied an effective one-two punch when it comes to Appalachian coal.

That it wasn’t surprising, however, doesn’t make it any less disconcerting for those men and women who now will likely have to rely on unemployment payments to get by as they search for work elsewhere.

Perhaps the second most unfortunate aspect of this continued decline of the local coal industry is that we’re not hearing much of anything from Frankfort. Sure, Gov. Beshear does the usual song-and-dance routine about how the EPA needs to release more mining permits and the federal government needs to get off our backs. To an extent we agree, but it doesn’t matter so much when companies are having a hard time selling the coal they’re already mining.

Here in Perry County some coal companies have been reducing their workforce for the past two years, with company representatives citing a lack of demand for Appalachian coal. When TECO cut 90 positions in November 2012, the company’s personnel director noted market conditions, and remained hopeful those conditions would improve. When Arch Coal cut positions back in June, the weakness of the market was again noted as the culprit.

And while southeastern Kentucky continues to hemorrhage jobs, Gov. Beshear has been busy announcing the creation or expansion of companies across Central and Western Kentucky. Certainly, we don’t begrudge these counties the jobs that have been created in their communities. Every job created in Kentucky makes our commonwealth that much stronger. But it seems for every job gained west and north of Clay County, the southeastern part of the state is losing one. This is a discrepancy we can’t afford, especially as the wage gap hit historic levels just this week and the poor keep getting poorer.

We don’t know what Gov. Beshear has up his sleeve, or how much he had to do with any of the positive job creation we’re seeing in other parts of the state, but he can’t expect to put his name on those successes while washing his hands of the declining economy in Eastern Kentucky. We’re hearing next to nothing from Frankfort about creating a new economy beyond coal. We need a new vision.

We suspect morale for the local job market is getting low among the local residents, as there doesn’t seem to be much down the pike to pick up the slack. And as the region continues to lose jobs seemingly left and right, we wonder where it is that our leadership has gone.

— The Hazard Herald