The 3,748 manufacturers that have stayed in Kentucky and employ 228,600 workers – despite a less-than-friendly business atmosphere – deserve all of the accolades Frankfort can muster, including Gov. Steve Beshear’s decree that October is “Manufacturing Month in the Commonwealth.”
Perhaps this could be followed by “Political Courage Month” in November, during which the governor digs his bully pulpit out of storage, dusts it off and places a reminder on it to “pound here in favor of right-to-work for Kentucky.”
He would have the support of manufacturers, who strongly endorse a right-to-work policy for Kentucky because they can see – and compare – what’s happening in states with and without them.
However, Beshear once said in an interview highlighted by Southern Business and Development magazine that those site selectors who claim that a lack of a right-to-work law is an obstacle to Kentucky’s economic growth have the wrong “perception.”
“There’s a perception issue among some companies that it is a problem,” Beshear said. “Our job is to break through that perception. We deal with site selectors every day and we are developing close relationships with those site selector companies, and as we do that it gives us the opportunity to really show them the facts about Kentucky.”
Based on his tepid concern about right-to-work, which attracts manufacturers because it allows individual workers to make their own choices regarding labor-union membership, certain “facts” likely are missing from Beshear’s talking points.
It’s a pretty good bet that data by the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing that growth in real manufacturing GDP in the decade ending in 2010 was more than 17 percent in right-to-work states, 9 percent in states without a right-to-work law and even worse – a paltry 4 percent – in Kentucky isn’t included in the governor’s presentation.
The “facts” are that neighboring states to the South with right-to-work laws like Tennessee, with its 5,790 manufacturers, attract companies like Hankook Tire – one of the world’s fastest-growing tire makers – which broke ground this month on an $800 million facility that will employ 1,800 people in Clarksville.
The “facts” are that site selectors like James Medbery of the Binswanger Company says that many companies cross Kentucky off their list “without giving it another thought” because we lack a right-to-work law.
This past spring, I ran into Louisville mayor Greg Fischer in a small café in his city’s West End where he told me that the right-to-work issue is nothing but “political noise.”
Companies “don’t even bring right-to-work up” when considering the River City for expansion or relocation, Fischer said.
Why should companies fight it when they can cross the Ohio River to a business-friendly state with more than twice as many manufacturers?
Indiana also has the River Ridge Commerce Center, which became home to the new Amazon Fulfillment Center just 44 days after Indiana became a right-to-work state. The Amazon facility employs 5,500 employees – including 3,000 seasonal workers – in a 1 million square-foot facility on 70 acres less than 15 minutes from Fischer’s office.
Since then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s right-to-work law on Feb. 1, 2012, there have been several closings on deals at the River Ridge property leading to the employment of 8,505 workers with such high-profile companies like The Standard Register Co. and Fuji Seal Inc.
Louisville Business First reporter Marty Finley toured River Ridge and reported that Paul Wheatley, its director of marketing and finance, believes the center “could employ 20,000 people in the future,” and that development will “explode” once new bridges being built connect Indiana, a right-to-work state, with its non-right-to-work neighbor to the South.
If that happens, it means that a single development in southern Indiana just across the river from Kentucky’s largest city will employ the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of the Bluegrass State’s entire manufacturing workforce.
Watch out for heavy traffic if you happen to head northbound on those bridges.