For 14 years under three governors, Marvin “Gene” Strong Jr. served as secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. During his tenure, hundreds of employers opened facilities in Kentucky, our economic-development efforts gained positive national recognition and other states sought to emulate our strategies.
During an interview in 2004, a reporter asked Strong if being a non-right-to-work state was a barrier to economic development. Strong responded, “This is more perception than reality.”
In 2002 Strong was asked the key reasons companies selected Kentucky. He responded, “From a manufacturing standpoint, there are probably two key factors: No. 1 and No. 2 are always education and transportation.”
That assessment has been supported by annual surveys of site-selection consultants and corporate executives conducted by both Site Selection magazine and Area Development magazine. Area Development’s 31st annual 2016 Corporate Survey of Site Selection Factors found that highway accessibility ranked No. 1 and availability of skilled labor ranked No. 2.
During the 31 years of Area Development’s Annual Corporate Survey of site selection factors right-to-work laws — allowing workers in a unionized company to not join or pay dues — has never ranked in the top 10, and ranked 16th in the 2016 survey.
Proponents claimed the lack of a right-to-work law was why employers chose other states for investment over Kentucky. Gov. Matt Bevin claimed the Swedish ambassador told him Volvo chose South Carolina for an auto assembly plant because it had right-to-work, a claim debunked by the Swedish ambassador and Volvo.
Proponents now claim that virtually every company that announces it is investing in Kentucky is due to passage of right-to-work.
House Speaker Jeff Hoover said that Amazon’s decision to construct a Northern Kentucky air hub “is absolute proof that the pro-business bills (right-to-work) we passed during the first week of January were major steps in the right direction.”
Hoover would like Kentuckians to believe that Amazon’s decision to construct the Hebron air hub, a $1.4-billion investment with $40 million tax-incentive package, announced Jan. 31, was made on the basis of passing right-to-work just 22 days earlier? Even Amazon doesn’t move that fast.
What Hoover neglects to mention is that Amazon had over 8,000 Kentucky employees long before passage of right-to-work and recently announced it would construct fulfillment centers in four other states — two in non-right-to-work states and two in right-to-work states.
Dave Clark, Amazon senior vice president of worldwide operations, said Kentucky’s advantages made it stand out: “As we considered places for the long-term home for our air hub operations, Hebron quickly rose to the top of the list with a large, skilled workforce, centralized location with great connectivity to our nearby fulfillment locations, and an excellent quality of living for employees.”
No mention of a right-to-work law.
Bevin and fellow proponents choose to ignore the positive outcomes and top rankings in economic development Kentucky has garnered over the past decade without right-to-work.
In 2015, Site Selection magazine ranked Kentucky No. 3 for positive business climate of all 50 states, while on a per capita basis Kentucky ranked No. 1 through October 2015 and Kentucky’s manufacturing employment climbed for a fifth straight year, according to the 2016 Kentucky Manufacturers Register.
Recently Bevin announced plans by Braidy Industries to construct an aluminum-production facility in Greenup County; he said the right-to-work bill was the deciding factor in the decision to choose Kentucky over 24 other states.
You would think Braidy Industries would be more interested in the cost of electricity, transportation access, skilled workers and would not base a billion-dollar investment decision on a single clause in a union contract for a facility yet to be constructed and where no union currently exists.
Claiming that right-to-work was the deciding factor is an obvious ploy to spread Bevin’s poisonous anti-union rhetoric to create the perception that making Kentucky a right-to-work state is about economic development when it is really about targeting unions for retribution to please his right-wing backers among the billionaire Koch Brothers and their ilk.
Bill Londrigan is president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.