FRANKFORT -- State government has hired a longtime friend of Gov. Matt Bevin to fill a new $250,000-per-year job dedicated to bolstering the commonwealth's workforce development efforts.
Vivek Sarin, who used to run a now-defunct manufacturing company in Shelbyville, began working this week as an executive officer with the state Cabinet for Economic Development. His primary focus will be improving the state's workforce development strategies, cabinet spokesman Jack Mazurak said.
"Companies here are really in need of a better and more consistent supply of trained employees," Mazurak said. "That is very high on the governor's agenda."
Sarin is the second high-profile hire Bevin's administration has announced this month. The state recently awarded Daniel Dumas of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a $240,000-per-year contract to help reform its adoption and foster care system.
Mazurak said Economic Development Secretary Terry Gill and the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board, of which Bevin is the chairman, specifically selected Sarin to fill this role. To his knowledge, the state didn't publicly seek applicants for this non-merit position.
Kenny Colston of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy was critical of the decision to give Sarin such a salary since the state budget doesn't include pay increases for most state workers.
"State government should be making wages fairer, not adding to soaring inequality," Colston said in an email Tuesday morning.
But Mazurak said Sarin's salary - which is the same as Gill's - reflects the importance the administration places on workforce development as well as the reality that the state must offer competitive compensation to attract people from the private sector.
"He could go and get a CEO job at a manufacturer in Kentucky or elsewhere," Mazurak said. "We want him here."
In a 2015 interview with the Courier-Journal, Sarin said he and Bevin - who was a gubernatorial candidate at the time - had been personal friends about 10 years. "We go back quite a ways," he said.
Sarin said he met Bevin when their children were attending the same school and their families became good friends, sharing many interests (including their Christian faith).
Sarin even donated to Bevin's campaign. He made two contributions that were collectively worth $2,000 when Bevin was running for governor, according to state records.
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