Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear came to Owensboro on Thursday to tour a plumbing, pipefitting and welding apprenticeship program and promote a jobs plan that is part of his campaign.
Beshear, the state's attorney general, is facing incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the governor's race. Beshear used Thursday's stop at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 663 facility on Alvey Park Drive West to attack Bevin's record on rural job creation.
"We have a governor that focuses on creating jobs in our three largest cities exclusively," Beshear said during a press gaggle after he toured the apprenticeship program. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kentucky's unemployment rate has declined from 5.3 percent in January 2016, the month Bevin took office, to 4.3 percent in July of this year.
Beshear spoke to the media, the apprenticeship program's coordinator and a handful of apprentices Thursday morning. Beshear's economic plan, the "Kitchen Table Agenda," includes "partner(ing) with labor unions to create a fast-track workforce grant program for lower-income adults who are working toward degrees that can fill high-need skills gaps," according to a press release.
"One thing we know is jobs are going to flow to the best-trained workforce," Beshear said. His plan includes working with job training programs and putting funds toward community colleges, he said.
Beshear said he is looking at "how the state can partner even better with programs" like the Pipefitters apprenticeship program.
The state should "do everything we can" to get students into skilled trades, Beshear said.
"There's so much more that we can do, and that means having a governor that doesn't treat workers as an enemy," he said.
Bevin's approach to economic development benefits "the out of state CEO," he said.
During a visit to the city on Aug. 8, Bevin's lieutenant governor candidate, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, said the state has seen the creation of 54,000 jobs since Bevin was elected to office in 2015 and has received $20 billion in private investment. Kentucky, Alvarado said, has "the lowest unemployment we've ever seen."
Other job and business initiatives Beshear mentioned Thursday include creating a jobs program specifically for veterans, training workers for "advanced manufacturing" and promoting "agritech" businesses. Forbes defines agritech as the modernization of farming, with the focus on "the ability to grow more food for a growing global population, with fewer, environmentally damaging resources."
"Agritech is going to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in the world," Beshear said.
Jeremy Young, training coordinator and business agent for Plumbers and Pipefitters 663, said the apprenticeship program is currently sustained by members, but a governor could help the program acquire state grants.
When asked if he'd heard anything that encouraged him to support Beshear, Young said he was opposed to attempted changes to the state's public employee pension system.
"Right now, we have a governor in there trying to take pensions away from people teaching our kids," Young said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse