What Grimes says E. Ky. must do to diversify economy; She also slams McConnell on Farm Bill delay

12/05/2013 12:17 PM

Eastern Kentucky needs roads and industrial parks to help attract other industries beyond coal to the region, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes said Thursday ahead of a major conference on the region’s future.

Come Monday, more than a thousand Kentuckians will descend upon Pikeville to debate ideas to help the economically beleaguered area during a summit called Shaping Our Appalachian Region — or SOAR.

Eastern Kentucky has seen a record drop in coal mining jobs, according to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal. The SOAR summit in Pikeville on Monday will focus on moving the region beyond coal and diversifying the economy in Appalachia.

Neither Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes or Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell will attend the event Monday.

McConnell, the Senate Minority Floor Leader, will be in Senate session on Monday. He is also listed as the beneficiary of a campaign fundraiser in Maryland on Monday night. Grimes, the secretary of state, said she will be getting ready for legislative special elections on Dec. 10 for an open House seat in the Owensboro area and a vacant Senate seat in Lexington.

Grimes was asked by Pure Politics at a United Steel Workers event in Louisville how she feels the Eastern Kentucky region can diversify the economy beyond the coal industry.

As part of her campaign, Grimes says she hosted round tables in Breathitt and Letcher counties to come up with ideas.

“Building the infrastructure is needed and necessary if we’re going to recruit businesses to actually come to the state,” Grimes said. “And two, investing, for instance, in our industrial parks that surround the coal fields.”

Grimes also took a shot at McConnell, calling him an “empty chatterbox” and promising that she would be Kentucky’s “champion” on these issues.

Former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton tried the industrial park strategy. And as the Herald-Leader’s John Stamper and Bill Estep reported in a November 2005 article about the progress of the strategy many of the buildings in rural Kentucky never panned out:

The state Cabinet for Economic Development lists more than 200 places available to build a factory or facility, ranging in size from a few acres to more than 2,000. It also lists nearly 200 buildings available for companies, including so-called “speculative” buildings constructed by local governments as a tool to recruit employers. Some of the spec buildings have sat vacant for more than five years and many of the industrial sites are far from full, yet the state and local governments continue building. For instance, Powell County is a member of the 117-acre Pine Ridge industrial park in neighboring Wolfe County, but deeds show the county paid $300,000 for 30 acres at Clay City in 1999 for an industrial site it wants to develop. The county already owns two unfilled industrial sites totaling 35 acres at Stanton, about seven miles from Clay City.

Earlier this week McConnell announced he would hold a summit of his own – a pro-coal “listening tour” to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency in Pikeville, which many have blamed for the decline in the coal industry.

Grimes also took a jab at McConnell this morning in a new Web ad entitled “Still Waiting” for not delivering on the promise of a farm bill. The one-minute video features McConnell promising the Kentucky Farm Bureau that “we will get a farm bill” in August.

McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore responded to the ad in a statement saying that the media see Congress is “making progress” on the negotiations.

“If Alison and her team picked up a newspaper today, they would see the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee saying, ‘We’re making great progress on their farm bill negotiations,’” Moore told Pure Politics in a statement. “Kentuckians expect more than blindly partisan and uninformed attacks on issues as important as the farm bill.”

One of the chief philosophic divides that has delayed the passage has been the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as SNAP, or food stamps, which is included in the farm bill. Many Republicans are pushing for a reduction in funding, while many Democrats are adamantly opposed.

WHAS11 Political Reporter Joe Arnold asked Grimes about the farm bill and SNAP. Grimes said she hopes Congress passes a “comprehensive bill that includes that funding” for SNAP.


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