Speakers at Thursday's Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast made a case for enhancing Kentucky's economic development efforts through a skilled workforce that includes veterans.
Josh Benton, executive director of workforce development for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and Col. Blaine Hedges, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs executive director, spoke at the chamber's April Power in Partnership breakfast at the Julian Carroll Convention Center.
Both emphasized how the business community can benefit from utilizing the skills of veterans transitioning from active duty to the local workforce.
"The No. 1 reason companies expand or locate (in a community) has to do with workforce," Benton said. "It's not necessarily incentives, infrastructure, utilities ... but the availability of quality people who are ready and willing to go to work.
According to Hedges, the impact of the defense community (Fort Campbell, Fort Knox, the Bluegrass Army Depot) on Kentucky from an economic development standpoint is $12 billion a year.
"There are 400 soldiers transitioning monthly out of Fort Campbell, (nearly) 5,000 a year, and I've heard we've got a challenge sometimes filling some critical skills here in our workforce," Hedges said. "The big picture is we can maximize the potential of our transitioning men and women veterans. We can put them to work in the commonwealth.
"Now there's a bunch of folks that are extremely adaptable. They're going to show up for work on time, they're going to be drug-free," he said. "They understand leadership, and it truly is a quality pool that I recommend everybody recruit out of."
Hedges said the cabinet's goal is for Kentucky to be recognized as a model for transitioning veterans.
According to Benton, Kentucky has ranked near the top nationally in private sector investment per capita for several years. "Kentucky is generally a good place to do business," he said. "And some of the legislation that was passed this session is going to make Kentucky an even better place to do business and make economic development easier."
While many people have the idea that economic development means "traveling all over the world trying to get companies to move to a certain area, the truth of the matter is in Kentucky our growth would not be possible without existing companies all over the state," Benton said.
"The majority of our growth in terms of investment, in terms of jobs, and the number of projects, is about 75 percent, year in and year out, from companies that are already here and like doing business here so they're expanding."
Both speakers encouraged the local business community to take advantage of job fairs at Fort Campbell, an idea that resonated with Sandra Wilson, chamber president.
"I want to let you know that we are going to look at, as a community, how we can go to Fort Campbell and bring these transitioning service men and women here to help fill our jobs, increase our population and be a part of our community," Wilson said.
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