Originators of the “Right to Work: Wrong for Kentucky” sign that still adorns a billboard alongside Louisville’s Watterson Expressway will have a harder time making that case now than even just a few months ago.
Since lawmakers passed right-to-work on the first Saturday of 2017—itself a historic event—history being made is becoming a frequent accomplishment when it comes to announcements of new investment in the Bluegrass State.
First, before right-to-work had even been on the books for a month, Amazon shook the entire retail industry’s center of gravity by deciding to place its $1.5 billion worldwide cargo hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The project will bring 3,000 jobs to the commonwealth and is the largest single business deal ever executed in Northern Kentucky, a distinction previously held by Delta Air Lines’ investment in 1993, which would represent $630 million in today’s dollars.
Then, Toyota announced less than two weeks later that it would make its largest-ever investment at the Georgetown plant, where 8,200 employees thrive, by devoting more than $1.3 billion to replacing and repairing equipment and upgrading technology.
While no new jobs were included in Toyota’s announcement, this upgrade is taking place at a plant where, according to the Kentucky Economic Development Authority and reported by WDRB News, workers make more than $45 an hour, which adds up to more than $93,000 annually—and that’s without including any overtime pay.
It’s all part of Toyota’s plan to spend $10 billion at its American plants by 2022.
Can anyone say: “Make Kentucky’s economy great again?”
But the commonwealth’s brand new right-to-work law also is making history even in eastern Kentucky.
Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard announced toward the end of April that his company would build a $1.3 billion aluminum mill in Greenup County’s South Shore that will employ 550 employees and pay them $70,000 annually.
Also, the first phase of the project, which will begin in early 2018, will result in the hiring of 1,000 construction workers.
How much does right-to-work have to do with this historic announcement?
“If Kentucky was not a right-to-work state, you wouldn’t have gotten on the list because it’s so important to us,” Bouchard said at an event announcing the new project, which will produce more than 300,000 tons of aluminum each year to serve automakers and the aerospace industry, a top exporter in the state.
The “list” included 24 other potential locations.
Still, despite Bouchard’s clear statement about how essential a right-to-work policy was in terms of deciding where to build this mill, which Gov. Matt Bevin said could wind up being “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky,” ideological naysayers still try to deny its impact on the decision-making process.
But in the end, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, was forced to admit the Braidy announcement means a “tremendous” addition to Kentucky’s economy, even though he led the charge against right-to-work during the debate in the legislature on that cold, snowy first Saturday in January by fuming: “I will never cast a vote that I know will drive down the wages of the hard-working middle class.”
A $70,000 paycheck in northeast Kentucky doesn’t exactly sound like driving down wages to me.
Such potential should also provide some optimism for many across the political spectrum who wondered if there was any hope for replacing coal jobs—the only good ones found in most areas of the region for decades—lost to market forces and the Obama administration’s stifling regulations.
Manufacturers in the four months since Kentucky became a right-to-work state have made announcements historic to the northern, central and eastern part of the commonwealth that will result in more than $4 billion and create 3,550 direct jobs.
Few policies were ever more right for Kentucky.
It’s time for that sign to come down.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at [email protected] and @bipps on Twitter.