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Passing Lane: August 2015

By wmadministrator

Shaping Our Appalachian Region’s Maestro

Jared Arnett
Jared Arnett

Eastern Kentucky native, jazz musician, MBA, entrepreneur, small business owner, father: Meet the executive director of Saving Our Appalachian Region (see article on Page 42)

Creating jazz music is not all that different from running a highly visible nonprofit, according to SOAR’s founding executive director Jared Arnett.

“I was a jazz piano major when I first started college,” Arnett recalled. “Jazz is about creating a plan and then seeing the results.

After finishing college with a degree in paralegal studies, Arnett wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and fell back onto jazz, becoming a music instructor at Soundhouse Music, a small business in Eastern Kentucky. But then something else struck a chord.

“There I got interested in business and started working as a bookkeeper,” he said. “I fell in love with running a small business – connecting all the dots, working with the people, doing every aspect of the business from advertising to marketing, the numbers, the creativity required.”

Business at the music store doubled in a few years. That led Arnett to an MBA program at Morehead State University, though not for the same reasons as most.

“I wanted to know more, to understand the business process better,” he said. “It helped me think, learn to solve complex problems and learn to solve them by building relationships. I didn’t want an MBA to get a high-paying job or move up the corporate ladder. I wanted it for my own understanding.”

Arnett has been president/CEO of the four-year-old, 530-member Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and a general management consultant for the East Kentucky Small Business Development Center.

At 26, he started his own consulting firm, Beacon Management Solutions Inc. His consulting work was instrumental in more than 10 successful start-ups in Eastern Kentucky, including one of his own, as a partner in Mountain Music Exchange LLC.

It’s an impressive resume, especially when you consider Arnett is 31.

And that leads to a question he hears often: Why did you choose to stay in Eastern Kentucky?

“Sometimes, you choose the mountains,” Arnett said, “and sometimes they choose you. I am probably representative of the culture and the region in that to me Eastern Kentucky is just more than a place you live. I have a drive to make a difference and make opportunities for others. I have found opportunity here. I think that is an important story to tell.”

Chamber to Next Governor: Workforce Programs Need Review

Kentucky’s workforce training and development programs need better coordination, greater accountability and more employer involvement, according to a new report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Achieving those and other goals detailed in the report’s recommendations will require a top-to-bottom review of the entire system – a review that the Chamber believes should be ordered by the next governor.

Kentucky’s Workforce Challenges: The Employer Perspective” notes there is a lot of confusion about workforce programs at the local level, frustration in the business community about its role in local and regional workforce decisions, uncertainty about the return on investment of workforce programs, and a maze of state and federal workforce programs that is difficult to navigate.

The report follows a year’s review of the state workforce system by a Chamber-organized group representing employers from different sectors and geographic regions.

The review began in response to the continuing frustrations voiced by employers about the challenges they encounter with Kentucky’s programs and their ability to find skilled workers for the jobs they have available. A recent poll of Chamber members reflected those frustrations: Less than 10 percent of the respondents believe the overall workforce has good skills.

The report includes more than a dozen recommendations to improve state efforts to create and sustain a high-quality workforce, including:

• Kentucky’s next governor should order an organizational and management review of the state’s workforce training and development system. The review should be conducted by an independent entity and should define the specific governance, management, and operational structure that would best meet the needs of employers and workers.

• Kentucky should develop and maintain an asset map that identifies all funding sources and provides a framework for accountability for state and local spending and results.

• State workforce officials and business leaders should jointly develop a structure to ensure employer participation in the development of state and local plans under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and employers should actively participate in state and local workforce boards and committees to implement it.

• The governor should direct set-aside funds under WIOA to support the development of employer-led collaboratives to guide workforce initiatives.

• The state’s business community should develop a focused voice on workforce issues to advance the interests of both small and large employers.

• Business organizations and chambers of commerce should develop working groups of employers to identify, by sector, credentials that best reflect the skills needed for successful performance in the workplace.

The report also emphasized the importance of employer involvement. “Beyond whatever improvements are needed in the design and delivery of government programs, Kentucky’s business community also has an important role to play in ensuring the availability of a skilled workforce. Employers’ participation in the full circle of planning, designing and monitoring workforce programs can make a critical difference in the quality and effectiveness of the services they deliver.”

Ky’s Energy Industry Takes Another Hit

On Aug. 3, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency released its carbon emissions plan, which will require Kentucky to reduce emissions by more than 18 percent.

“I am extremely disappointed and frustrated by the huge changes the EPA made from the proposed rule,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “What is being proposed for Kentucky is disastrous – disastrous for our declining coal economy and equally disastrous for our very important manufacturing economy. The EPA claimed that it listened to the comments received on the proposed rule for the Clean Power Plan. It is clear from the emissions numbers the EPA has set for Kentucky that the agency did not listen to us. This rule leaves the commonwealth with few, if any, alternatives to formulate a plan without significant harmful impact to rate payers, manufacturing companies and the overall economy. This is an extensive rule, and we will be meeting with stakeholders to assess its potential impacts. We will, however, continue to explore ways for Kentucky to comply with the rule should it become law, because we believe that a Kentucky-specific plan would be better than a federal plan imposed on us.”

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell also decried the plan, saying that it would not only make it harder to maintain reliable sources of energy to meet demand and increase energy bills, but could ultimately end up harming the environment by outsourcing energy production to countries with poor environmental records like India and China.

The plan is only the most recent blow to Kentucky’s coal industry, which has already seen thousands of coal workers put out of work in recent years. On the same day the new EPA plan was announced, the Center for Rural Development in Somerset announced that it has been awarded a $500,000 grant to provide free workforce and re-employment services for displaced coal miners and former coal company employees who have been adversely affected by the decline in the coal industry in four Kentucky counties.

The program will now be open to all former coal company employees who have worked for a coal company, regardless of their job title or position in the company, within the service region of Laurel, Clay, Leslie and Bell counties. The center is partnering with a number of providers, including Somerset Community College, Southeast Community College and Hazard Community College, to provide classroom occupational skills training in an occupation expected to be in high demand in southern and eastern Kentucky.

Livingston Becomes First Kentucky Proud Town

The mayor of Livingston sees Kentucky Proud as a way to jump-start his town’s economy and on July 14, the Rockcastle County community officially became the first municipality to join the Kentucky Proud program, the state’s official program for marketing farm products raised, grown, processed, and/or manufactured in the commonwealth.

“Mayor (Jason) Medley shares my vision of agriculture as an economic development tool,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said. “He has an innovative plan for raising revenue for his city and creating jobs in agriculture. Mayor Medley’s idea could become a model for other small communities to follow.”

“I love the idea of Kentucky Proud,” Medley said. “It puts local people to work doing things they’re skilled in. A lot of places that worry about jobs put all their eggs in one big industry. I’d like to do something smaller. There are people who like to work out of their homes, older people, people who like to raise a garden. If they see there’s someplace for their produce to go so it doesn’t go to waste, they might grow more.”

Medley said inmates at the Rockcastle County Detention Center are helping raise green beans, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and corn on a half-acre lot that a Livingston resident loaned for that purpose. Volunteers will can and label the vegetables, and the city will sell them to local restaurants in Livingston and nearby Mt. Vernon to raise revenue, Medley said.

“There’s not a lot of tax base here,” Medley said. “Every little bit that goes back to the city helps.”

Medley hopes that perhaps as early as next year, local farmers and gardeners will sell their excess produce to the city, and the city can add value to the produce and sell it at a profit.

“Around here, we don’t raise taxes – we raise produce,” Medley said.

Livingston, a town of 300 people, also is a Kentucky Trail Town, a state designation for communities that offer adventure tourism opportunities.