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Economic Growth Luncheon Focuses on Educated Work Force

econMADISONVILLE, Ky. ― Community leaders met in an economic growth and education luncheon at the Brown Badgett, Sr.  Energy and Advanced Technology Center at Madisonville Community College Thursday.

The keynote speaker was Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson.

“I-69 provides an opportunity to attract investments and create jobs,” Abramson said. “I'm here to tell you that the most important issue along with infrastructure is the human resource ― the young men and young women, and not so young men and women, who are available to the businesses here today and tomorrow.”

Creating a strong, prepared workforce is necessary for attracting business and industry to Madisonville and to the region, according to Abramson.

“I've had the chance as lieutenant governor to visit places like Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston, where we would meet with 10, 20, or 30 people, who were consultants to businesses looking to relocate,” Abramson said. “What they say over and over again is tax structure is important, infrastructure is important, but the bottom line for the future of their company as to where they're going to relocate, where they're going to invest, and where they're going to create jobs has to do with an assurance that there will be a skilled, educated and productive workforce.”

Abramson addressed the statewide budget cuts during the recession that has affected services from the Commonwealth of Kentucky to its citizens.

“One of the things that we were unable to do over the last six years is to invest one nickel in capital investment for our community college system,” Abramson said.

That funding goes to resources to better educate students.

“That's buildings, technology, all the kinds of things that assure employers that their soon-to-be employees are prepared for the jobs of the future,” Abramson said.

Four-year colleges court their alumni and the businesses that hire their graduates to make up the differences in available capital, Abramson stated, but Kentucky's 16 community colleges have rarely utilized this resource.

“The community college level is, in my judgment, the most important level in this country right now in terms of education, and if you talk to employers, they will tell you just that,” Abramson said. “Whether it's a certificate to go into air conditioning or plumbing; whether it's an associate's degree in the health field, allied health, nursing or to be able to go into robotics or advanced manufacturing, that's where the action is in this country.”

According to Abramson, the shortages in the workforce may not be where most would expect.

“It isn't in the PhD area. It isn't in the lawyering area. It is in the area of the folks with those two-year associate's degrees and one-year certificates,” he said.

According to Abramson, even for those who plan to earn bachelor's degrees or higher, the community college system is vital.

“When we talk about the expense of a four-year university, more and more emphasis is being placed on going to your community college, getting your basic courses under your belt, and then going on to a four-year university for your ultimate degree,” Abramson said.

Abramson also addressed the Build Smart program.

“We're going to start doing something and get people's mindset changed at the community college level,” said Abramson, “because we're going to make a commitment at the state level to pay for 75 percent of a new building for each of the 16 campuses.”

This leaves 25 percent of each new building to be paid for by the community served by the college. For MCC, this amounts to $5 million that must be raised for the post-secondary education building designed for the Madisonville campus.

“In this community, the decision was made to build a building that will see more 2 + 2 groups come together,” Abramson said, referring to the two-year community college experience plus the additional two years needed to receive a bachelor's degree through MCC's partnership with Murray State University.

The Build Smart program comes with a deadline ― all funding must be secured by June 30, 2016 in order for state funds to be applied to the construction of new buildings.

According to Abramson, with I-69 being built, the time is ripe to increase the educational offerings in the community to be prepared for the potential boost to the local economy that comes with a major roadway.

“You're going to see natural gas and cold bed methane energy expand. You're going to see manufacturing grow. You're going to see warehousing once you've got that infrastructure. You're going to see tourism and entrepreneurship. You're going to see retail grow and expand,” he said. “All those areas are going to have to have two- and four-year college graduates.”

Ultimately, Abramson said, it comes down to the Madisonville community to see growth happen.

“Citizens have to take ownership,” he said. “The area depends on the seed corn for the future of the businesses. Now is the time.”

Dr. Tim Miller, president of Murray State University; Dr. Judith Rhoads, president of Madisonville Community College; Jenny Sewell, mayor of Dawson Springs; Madisonville Mayor David Jackson; and, Donald E. Carroll, Hopkins County Judge-Executive also addressed those gathered. Lunch was served by the Hopkins County Jail culinary program.

Ami Clayton
SurfKY News Reporter

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