GRAYSON Sen. Rand Paul was in the area on Monday, meeting with leaders from Carter, Boyd, Greenup, Elliott and Lawrence counties at the FIVCO offices on the Industrial Parkway.
Paul discussed the state of the economy as well as plans to improve outdated infrastructure by reallocating funds from other federal programs and from money spent on “nation building” in the Middle East.
Paul said the state — and specifically the northeastern Kentucky region — is doing well economically. He touted national unemployment rates and said, as he went around the area, one of the issues he heard from employers was that they had more work than they could find employees for, which is “a good problem to have.”
Despite negative attention from national media, Paul said, “amazing things are happening” across the nation. He said that one of the complaints from critics of the current administration is that the rich are getting richer, but he argued that the trickle-down effect is present. “Yes, the rich are getting richer,” Paul said. “So are the middle class and so are the poor.”
“I think the future is very bright (for northeastern Kentucky),” he added.
Paul opened the floor to questions and comments from local leaders.
Greenup County Judge Executive Bobby Carpenter asked the senator about the loss of jobs with the closing of AK Steel.
Paul asked if the company was still responsible for maintaining and cleaning up the site after shutting it down, and suggested that another industry might be interested in utilizing the facilities there, as the river and rail infrastructure was still intact and wouldn't need to be created from scratch. He said offering tax breaks for any new industry willing to locate at the site could be beneficial to its redevelopment.
Ashland mayor Steve Gilmore, however, noted issues the city had with redevelopment of other existing AK sites in the city because of their brownfield status. He said the city would be interested in purchasing the land to offer to other developers. There has never been a cost associated with that.
Paul said he would be happy to advocate for the loosening of federal EPA restrictions on the land, noting that he favored local control over these issues.
Paul said sometimes communities need to focus more on a “good solution” rather than a “perfect solution,” and stated that he would draft a letter asking the federal EPA to defer to the state EPA on site use.
Carter County Judge Executive Mike Malone told the senator Carter County has the workforce Paul said employers were seeking, but that the county needs jobs for that workforce. He asked for assistance with “getting the word out” that Carter County was ready to provide employers with that workforce and requested assistance with expediting remittance of FEMA funds for the various weather-related expenses hitting the county over the last several years.
Paul told Malone he was “more than willing” to help with the county's FEMA issues.
As far as the workforce, Paul said he is “a fan” of getting employers involved with high schools, vocational schools and technical and trade colleges.
Rep. Danny Bentley, from House District 98 covering Greenup and Boyd counties, said he regularly gets calls from constituents who have lost children and other loved ones as a result of insulin rationing. Paul said that he was a critic of “evergreen” patents, which allowed “big pharma” to freeze generic drug manufacturers out of the market.
“We need to let generics in ... and create competition,” Paul said. He said his CREATES Act was one proposal for addressing this issue.
“Big pharma is abusing the system,” Paul said. He noted that he “supports Capitalism,” but said that if pharmaceutical companies “keep fighting, there is going to be an overreaction,” which he said will lead to a “crappy system” imposed by those who want to create socialized health care.
Paul also discussed changes to the H2A program, which mainly impacts agriculture. He said he would like to see activities like landscaping and livestock moved to the H2A from the H2B, which has a cap on foreign labor that the H2A program does not have.
He noted that currently folks can be prosecuted for not following the rules from either program, which he felt hurt productivity and growth.
Paul said that the best thing the federal government could do was to keep corporate tax rates low to encourage continued business prosperity.
He also discussed recent bad press that both he and Sen. Mitch McConnell have received over supporting Russian investment in the state.
“We live in an international world,” he said.
If the companies wanted to give jobs to Kentuckians, he said, he didn't care where they came from. He also said that attempting to stop Russian investment in Braidy Industries could lead to China “ending up with a monopoly on the aluminum market.”
When asked about the problem of underemployment, and people in professions like teaching needing to work multiple jobs to make ends meet despite the improving economic numbers, Paul said that there were plenty of good paying jobs out there if people looked for them, but conceded that there were problems in certain industries.
“I think when you look at the statistics, the median wage in the country has actually gone up by $4,000 in the last four years,” Paul said. “I think it went up from $58,000 to $62,000, so actually wages are rising. There is a shortage of workers. There is a shortage of labor, and the price of labor is actually rising. So I'm finding people in northern Kentucky — one shipping business was hiring laborers right out of high school for $22 an hour. So really, wages are rising. There has never been a better time, in my lifetime, to be looking for work.”
“The biggest problem I find as I go across Kentucky is people who can't find enough workers,” he added. “So it's the best time to be somebody looking for work.”
Reach JEREMY WELLS at firstname.lastname@example.org.