economy

Electric Vehicles Energizing Kentucky Economy

Sep 28, 2021
Ryan Van Velzer

It’s National Drive Electric Week and corporations are making major investments in electric vehicle technologies benefiting Kentucky.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. and making the transition away from fossil fuels will require large investments.

To that end, Ford Motor Company is announcing its single biggest manufacturing investment in its history at the same time that utilities are working toward building a network of charging stations along major highways. 

Ford announced plans Monday to bring thousands more jobs to Kentucky to build batteries for electric vehicles.

Lisa Autry

More than a dozen Kentucky Career Centers around the state are ready to help what they hope will be an influx of job seekers now that federal unemployment benefits have expired

More than 86,000 Kentuckians were still out of work in July, nearly a year-and-a-half since the start of the pandemic. 

The federal government suspended enhanced unemployment benefits on Sept. 6, and with people losing that extra $300 a week, that could send more looking for work. 

Jon Sowards, head of the South Central Workforce Development Board, said employers have made returning to the workforce more lucrative.

“Ask yourself, 'which side of the wave do you want to be on?'. Do you wanna be on the front side or the back side? If you’re on the front side, right now what we’re seeing is that wages are higher than ever, compensation and benefits packages are better than ever, there’s more bonuses than I’ve ever seen.”

Creative Commons

Kentucky’s economy has largely weathered the coronavirus pandemic so far, though the number of people working is still far below pre-virus levels and the Delta variant threatens to cause more problems.

The state’s unemployment rate in June—the last month available—was 4.4%, far below the national rate of 5.9%.

But University of Kentucky economics professor Michael Clark says the unemployment rate doesn’t account for people who aren’t looking for work and have dropped out of the labor force.

And he says some workers still aren’t rejoining the labor force for a range of reasons like feeling unsafe at work, inability to get childcare and soon-to-expire enhanced unemployment benefits.

Breya Jones

Parents across the country will begin receiving monthly payments Thursday as a part of an expansion of the child tax credit under the American Rescue Plan.

The new payments will be up to $300 a month for children under 6 and up to $250 for children between the ages of 6 and 17. The amount of money parents can receive per child has increased by around $1000 overall. About 39 million households are eligible for the credit.

Guardians will receive the other half of the increased tax credit through their 2021 tax filings.

The bill also expands eligibility for the credits based on income and immigration status. Families who have not filed taxes in past years are also eligible for the monthly payments.

Updated October 12, 2021 at 4:04 PM ET

Democrats are in a bind. Congressional leaders want to deliver on the big promises they've made to approve major investments in climate initiatives, Medicare, the child tax credit and more. But splits in the Democratic caucus mean compromising on what was initially billed as a $3.5 trillion budget.

Kevin Willis

 

The federal government is rescinding thousands of payments promised to struggling restaurants. 

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was meant to provide pandemic relief. Initially, the program offered a 21-day exclusivity period for women, military veterans and “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” to apply first. But a series of lawsuits halted the program, accusing it of being unfair because it prioritizes businesses owned by women and people of color.

One of the lawsuits was filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee by Antonio Vitolo, the owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tenn., who said he was discriminated against because he is a white male. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed.

In light of the court rulings, nearly 3,000 applicants had their grants revoked.

Yasmine Jumaa

Kentucky has the third highest increase in unemployment claims nationally ━ according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of labor ━ with 9,172 new filings. 

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with state business officials Monday to talk about Kentucky’s post-pandemic economic recovery. He said the extra $300 in federal benefits is the reason fewer people are returning to the workforce.

“There’s no question that we’d be in better shape if the governor had made a decision to discontinue the federal bonus as 25 other states have,” McConnell said. “I was on a conference call with a group of companies ━ some in Kentucky and some in Indiana ━ and they reported that when the Indiana governor discontinued the extra $300 [per] week bonus, the next day, they got 200 job applications.”

Corrine Boyer

Kentuckians receiving unemployment benefits could be eligible for a $1,500 payment if they re-enter the workforce by the end of July.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the new back-to-work incentive at a press conference Thursday afternoon. Kentucky officials estimate roughly 60,000 residents are receiving $300 in weekly pandemic unemployment assistance on top of state unemployment benefits. The state is setting aside $22.5 million in federal CARES Act funding for the new program, which would cover the incentive payments for 15,000 participants.

Some critics have called for the end of the additional unemployment benefits. Beshear says doing so would harm Kentucky families and the economy.

Updated June 16, 2021 at 2:08 PM ET

Two organizations filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in an attempt to block the state's push to end pandemic unemployment benefits on June 19. This lawsuit may be the first of its kind that aims to stop states from ending these benefits earlier than Congress mandated.

Lisa Autry

City leaders in Bowling Green have passed a $122 million budget that increases spending without tax hikes.

The city commission gave unanimous, final approval to the spending plan during a meeting Tuesday night. The budget is for the 2021-22 fiscal year beginning July 1. 

Coming off spending cuts in the current year’s budget due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, the next one boosts funding thanks to increased revenue projections. 

The spending plan also increases wages for the city’s lowest paid employees to $15 an hour.  Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott said the minimum wage increase was given “out of necessity” as the nation faces a pandemic-related worker shortage.

“We’re in the same competition to get people to work," Alcott told WKU Public Radio. "We’ve got to entice people to come work for us just like everyone else.”

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

Even though Kentucky’s coronavirus cases have declined, businesses have reopened and restrictions have lifted, thousands of Kentuckians are still waiting on unemployment benefits they applied for during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vicki Lahman filed for unemployment in February 2020 after she was laid off from Louisville department store Shaheen’s shortly before the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kentucky.

Lahman is 75 years old, has COPD and is back to work at Shaheen’s now. But despite months of applications and calls to the state’s unemployment office, she only received one unemployment check in March of last year.

Her daughter, Heather Calamita, helped her throughout the process. She said they reached an unemployment official over the phone in May of last year who told her Lahman’s application had been put in “the wrong pile” and the situation would be quickly fixed.

Facebook/ConCon's

It's the first full week that businesses across Kentucky reopened with no mask, social distancing or capacity requirements.

Some changes made to meet the challenges of the pandemic turned out to be good for business. 

Along Russellville Road in Bowling Green, one visible change made during the pandemic is a white tent installed in front of a little diner named ConCon’s

Owner Connie Blair said she had to adapt quickly to the requirements of the pandemic. She didn’t have any indoor dining for nine months

“I never shut the doors, not at all. I put in the drive-up window in six hours after it started and I put a PA system outside,” said Blair. “You know, they just cracked their window and waited for me tell ‘em to pull up to the window and pick their food up.”

She said the changes that saved her business are going to stay. 


The Creme Coffee House

A coffee shop in Owensboro is among businesses across Kentucky preparing for Friday’s return to full capacity, as the state emerges from the shadow of COVID-19 with vaccines readily available and the number of cases dramatically reduced. 

One young owner took a big risk when she bought a small Daviess County business in the midst of the pandemic and guided it through the economic and emotional turmoil of the past year. 

Brooklyn Patterson became owner of The Creme Coffee House in May 2020. It was a time when many small businesses were wiped out as a result of mandated closures, limited capacity and COVID-19 ravaging families and communities. 


Virtual Location

A major geocaching event in its 18th year is set to be held in Daviess County for the first time. Owensboro is hosting the event in parks and along the riverfront beginning Friday evening.

The Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure, or MOGA, will send visitors on a high-tech treasure hunt to find small containers using a GPS device, or a GPS-enabled mobile phone. 

President and CEO of Visit Owensboro, Mark Calitri, said the event was already planned to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines using the outdoor venues of the Rudy Mine Trail, Yellow Creek Park, and the Riverwalk. 


Kevin & Remi Mays

Colleges and universities across the country recently celebrated graduates from the spring class of 2021. Those degree-holders are entering a job market that looks to be improving, given the wide availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines.

That’s very different from the job market seen by those who graduated last year, as an unchecked pandemic was wreaking havoc on the economy. Many graduates from the class of 2020 have had their job prospects curtailed by the pandemic and are still figuring out how to move forward. 

One class of 2020 graduate from Western Kentucky University has been focusing on the positives during what she called her unexpected hiatus. 

  

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