Sixteen months after Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes announced his retirement and nine months into the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky still does not have a full-time secretary to oversee the cabinet that attempts to create jobs in Kentucky.
The $250,000-a-year job to attract new industries and help existing companies expand has not been filled since early November, when Hayes retired after seven years in the position. He had announced his retirement in May 2015.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear, whose Democratic administration ended last December, passed up the opportunity to replace Hayes before leaving office and left the decision to Bevin, a Republican.
“We conducted the search according to the statute but felt like the final selection ought to be made by the incoming governor since they would be working together,” Beshear said in a recent email.
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Beshear did name Erik Dunnigan of Lexington as acting secretary of the cabinet after Hayes retired. Dunnigan, who had been deputy secretary under Hayes, still holds that title and would not comment this week on whether he would like the job full time.
It appears the Bevin administration and Dunnigan have been working fine together, but Bevin is not publicly talking about his preference for the job. Bevin has not always retained Beshear appointees.
Dunnigan joined the cabinet in 2002 and progressed to the position of commissioner before leaving in November 2013 to become vice president of business development with Bristol Group Inc., a national real estate investment firm. He returned to the state cabinet a year later to become deputy secretary.
Dunnigan began his career in a management role with Valvoline Instant Oil Change, a division of Ashland Inc., while attending the University of Kentucky. He has an undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Kentucky and a Master’s in business administration from Morehead State University.
Daniel Logan, head of the Oxford, Miss.-based Logan Development Group, said the state has taken too long in naming a full-time secretary. His firm identified several candidates to the cabinet for the job for both Beshear and Bevin to consider.
Logan, who had a $32,000 contract with the state to conduct the search before it expired June 30, said he respects Beshear and Bevin but is concerned about how the “professional” candidates have been handled. He said one of the top three submitted to the governors withdrew from consideration in April because of the lengthy process.
“This has been frustrating and difficult,” said Logan.
Bevin has picked up the pace in recent days, though he maintains the state has not missed a beat without an economic development secretary.
He called a Sept. 2 meeting of the Economic Development Partnership Board, a 15-member board that oversees the cabinet, to discuss the next steps in naming a full-time cabinet secretary.
Bevin press secretary Amanda Stamper said the board met in closed session and discussed personnel matters.
Bevin, she said, “requested that the board continue reviewing potential candidates and supply three new names for his consideration.”
Under state law, the governor chooses the secretary from a list of three names submitted by the partnership board. If the governor rejects all three, the board must submit a list of three additional names.
In the current search, the partnership board appointed a search committee to select three finalists. After interviewing the first three finalists, Bevin asked the board to continue its work and submit three additional names.
It is not publicly known if the board has yet submitted any additional names to Bevin to consider. Stamper would only say that the finalists “hold other economic development positions, and to ensure their privacy, those names will not be released.”
Stamper also said the annual salary for the new secretary has not been determined.
Asked why Bevin has waited so long to fill the position, Stamper said Bevin has been actively involved in economic development matters since his inauguration and that his efforts have been productive.
She noted that he has traveled to Detroit to speak with some of the country’s top automotive officials and has been to Europe on an economic development mission that resulted in the creation of about 100 jobs in Corbin with Eurosticks.
“Gov. Bevin works closely with acting secretary Erik Dunnigan on a daily basis and is confident Kentucky is making great progress in this important area,” Stamper said. “Gov. Bevin wants to ensure that his ultimate choice will be the proper person for both the position and Kentucky.”
Since December, Stamper said, the cabinet has announced the location or expansion plans of 110 companies that have promised to create some 10,000 new jobs and invest more than $2 billion.
“Gov. Bevin is proud of the progress and momentum Kentucky is currently experiencing in economic development and wants to ensure we maintain this success,” she said.