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Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet aims to bring more businesses to rural communities

Kentucky Legislative Research Commission

The head of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet hopes to bring more businesses to rural Kentucky communities, especially in the eastern and western parts of the state.

KEDC secretary Jeff Noel broke down the cabinet’s goal during a Wednesday meeting of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Protection, Tourism and Energy, saying he aims to announce 12,000 new jobs from companies moving to or expanding in Kentucky this year.

Noel said the cabinet needs to make sure job opportunities reach Kentuckians across the state. To do that, Noel thinks the Economic Development Cabinet needs strategies – including specific guidelines for the cabinet and a list of targeted industries – that are tailored to fit the needs of rural Kentucky communities.

“It includes making sure that we adjust our strategies, and perhaps in some cases, adjust our tools to not only make them fit everywhere in the state, but adjust them so they are very focused on, if you will, the rural parts of our state,” Noel said. “Eastern [and] western Kentucky, as well as those distressed urban neighborhoods.”

The department is targeting jobs that pay around $27 per hour before benefits, he added.

Some of the challenges eastern Kentucky communities face in attracting new businesses, Noel said, include a smaller concentration of manufacturers in the area as well as logistical issues with supply chains.

Noel said some of the existing programs and tools the cabinet uses to incentivize economic development may need to be tweaked to better address the needs of rural communities, and that understanding these needs is key.

“Sometimes I feel like – and I’m guilty of this as well – some 500 or 600-employee plant is going to solve all the issues in the area across our state, in any community across the country. That’s not quite always true,” he said. “I’d almost rather have a company that’s going to employ 500 or 100 and become really involved in the community that helps us then attract someone else.”

Rep. Chris Fugate chairs the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Protection, Tourism, and Energy. The Perry County Republican said he hopes tourism business – like the Hatfield-McCoy Trails – and other small business developments in eastern Kentucky can help replace some of the more than 3,000 coal industry jobs lost in his district.

“We may not ever land a 250 or 300-job factory, but if we can get a lot of 10 to 20 employee places … across all of east Kentucky, that would make a big difference for us,” he said.

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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