Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says the commonwealth has a lot in its favor when it comes to attracting manufacturers.
But in a speech and question-and-answer session at the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers’ annual energy conference Wednesday, Bevin also spoke about the importance of planning for the future of workforce development.
Sometimes, he stressed, that includes making sure there are alternatives to four-year degrees available for high school graduates.
“As a kid who grew up poor in the country, I was blessed by opportunities that came my way to go to and graduate from college. But this idea that every kid needs to get on a fast track to some college degree, no matter what it’s in, is nonsense, it really is,” Bevin said.
“There are certain degrees that are frankly not applicable in your world, or frankly, in a lot of other worlds, either,” he said, jokingly using French Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies as examples.
Bevin majored in East Asian Studies at Washington and Lee University.
Besides Kentucky’s need to backfill its skilled, manufacturing jobs with younger people, Bevin said continuing to use the state’s coal resources will be essential to keeping electricity prices low. Kentucky is an attractive place to move a business, he said, and low energy prices make it even more attractive.
“One advantage that we do have, as well, is energy costs that even now are about 20 percent cheaper than they are in many of the surrounding states,” he said. “That’s changing a bit as the energy landscape changes a little bit, and it’s important that we continue to utilize the resources we have, coal, in particular. It still drives the vast majority of the electricity in this state and this country.”
Energy from coal makes up about 92 percent of Kentucky’s electricity generation, but nationwide, it’s in the minority. In 2015, coal made up about a third of the U.S. electricity portfolio, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Although Bevin sees coal as integral to Kentucky’s economy and energy future, it’s water that he called the “commodity of the future.” And he said Kentucky’s central location and access to sources like the Ohio River may be ultimately what draws people and businesses to the commonwealth.
“We’re in the middle of the safest continent left in the world, smack dab in the middle of it, with seasonality that’s very livable and doable” he said. “And we have an abundance of water, a never-ending supply of it, truth be told. There will be a migration to this part of America, there will be. And we’re in the middle of it. And we should be ready to handle that. And the people who come are going to expect the lights to come on.”