Labor Movement: Will ‘Right-To-Work’ States Attract More Businesses? Monday, Feb 20 2017 

The Ohio Valley region once helped give rise to the labor movement. Now it’s shifting toward what’s known as right-to-work law. West Virginia and Kentucky have passed right-to-work laws and Ohio is considering a similar bill.

One of the big selling points for right-to-work proponents is that the law can attract new businesses. But opponents argue that there is little evidence to support the claim and that the potential benefits come at too high a cost to workers.

Big Choices

Mike Mullis is a site selection consultant who has spent 25 years helping global corporations, such as Toyota, pick the places where they will build major projects. He said some companies – particularly in manufacturing – will perk up when they hear the words “right to work.” However, that doesn’t mean businesses will come flocking to a state.

“The thing that is misunderstood by many people is that right to work does not guarantee you projects,” Mullis said,“it simply guarantees you more opportunity.”

He said other factors are more important, such as the skill of the workforce, infrastructure, and transportation. Mullis supports right to work, but he notes many oversimplify its connection to workplace growth.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

A worker in a Bowling Green, Kentucky, manufacturing facility.

A Business Perspective

Simply put, right-to-work laws prohibit a company or union from requiring workers to become union members as a condition of employment. The laws states pass also often go a step further. They eliminate the requirement for non-union workers to pay what are called “fair share fees.” Unions strongly object to that — as we’ll hear in a moment.

But Kenneth Troske, an economics professor at the University of Kentucky, said he thinks right-to-work laws should help states attract businesses.

“[It] sends a signal to businesses that, as a state, we are trying to make ourselves more open and friendly and flexible as possible for businesses that want to locate here,” Troske said.

He said businesses like the promise of flexible workplace schedules which can increase productivity.

“That’s essentially what the research shows, is that when plants become unionized, you see a decline in their productivity,” Troske said.

Troske acknowledges that right-to-work laws are a “mixed bag” because, as unions argue, the flexibility that employers want can lead to exploitation of workers, which is why they need the protection of unions. But Troske argues that new businesses that locate in right-to-work states are competing with other businesses for the same pool of skilled workers. That means that even if wages drop it will not be as dramatic as opponents of the law suggest.

Businesses considering relocating do want to know about right-to-work status, he said, even if the region’s skilled workforce remains a top concern. Troske pointed out that the effect of right-to-work laws in the Ohio Valley region are not clear because the changes are too recent.

Lisa Autry, WKU Public Radio

A rolling protest against Kentucky’s right to work law.

The Workers’ View

Ross Eisenbrey is vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on the needs of middle and low income workers. He said right-to-work laws have never been shown to make a difference in employment growth and he is skeptical of claims that the laws do much to attract new business.

“Corporate CEOs who answer surveys about the factors that determine where they locate, don’t even have right-to-work in the top ten factors that influence their decisions,” Eisenbrey said.

He doubts that businesses the issue to a priority in deciding locations for investment because only 6 percent of private sector workers are unionized. And he warns that anyone hoping that the law will bring a dramatic increase in manufacturing jobs and new businesses will be disappointed.

“I don’t believe for a minute that that’s an important factor in a business decision about where it locates,” Eisenbrey said.

Eisenbrey pointed to economic evidence showing that right-to-work laws come at a cost in the form of weaker unions and lower wages. He said unions lead to higher wages, and generally have an impact of increasing wages by 10 to 15 percent compared to non-represented employees.

“As right-to-work reduces union finances and weakens the union’s ability to represent workers over time, wages go down,” Eisenbrey said. “And that’s what will happen eventually in West Virginia and Kentucky.”

Eisenbrey noted that while business-friendly legislators vote for right to work laws, many voters don’t. Historically when right to work laws are put to a statewide vote, they typically don’t pass.

Ohio’s experience with right-to-work proposals offer an example, he said. Such laws were first introduced in Ohio’s legislature in 1958 and didn’t pass. The legislature passed a law eliminating collective bargaining in 2011 only to have it overturned by a statewide vote later that year. Now the legislature is considering a right-to-work provision once again.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Teamsters leader Ken Hall with other labor leaders at a rally against West Virginia’s right to work law.

A Court Challenge

In West Virginia, a group of unions is suing the state over its right-to-work law, which passed last year. A judge placed a stay on the new law shortly after it was signed. Ken Hall is general secretary-treasurer with the Teamsters, one of the unions involved in the lawsuit.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“If this was good for workers, why is it that eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income are right-to-work states?” Hall said. “Why are the majority of the top 15 states with the highest rate of poverty right-to-work states?”

The union challenge to West Virginia’s law largely has to do with the effects on non-union employees in a unionized workplace. A little history helps to explain this.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in a case in the 1970s that employees can’t be forced to join a union, but non-union employees could still be made to pay fair share fees for the benefits of a union workplace, such as collective bargaining.

Right-to-work laws often go a step further by eliminating the requirement for non-union members to pay what are called fair share fees, which are lower than full union dues. But the unions are still responsible for collective bargaining for those employees, and must defend them in the event of a grievance.

Hall feels it’s unfair that non-union workers get something for nothing. He said it means  that right-to-work laws will weaken unions and hurt workers far more than they help an area generate new business.

The unions expect a decision on their challenge to West Virginia’s law in a couple of weeks. Kentucky is just beginning to implement its law and Ohio is just reviving debate on the issue. The real effect of right-to-work laws in this region once dominated by union labor remains to be seen.

Trump Picks Alexander Acosta As New Choice For Labor Secretary Thursday, Feb 16 2017 

President Trump has named R. Alexander Acosta as his replacement for labor secretary nominee. Trump’s earlier pick, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination on Wednesday afternoon after losing support on both sides of the aisle.

Acosta has been dean of the law school at Florida International University since 2009. He’s been a member of the National Labor Relations Board and was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Prior to that, he was an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the George W. Bush administration.

His tenure there was not without controversy. Acosta filed a brief defending an Ohio law that allowed people to challenge the legitimacy of a voter at a polling place, even though the Justice Department was not involved in the case, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2004.

While U.S. attorney, Acosta’s office was reprimanded by a federal judge after it was revealed that prosecutors there had illegally recorded conversations with the attorney of a doctor accused of illegally prescribing painkillers. Acosta said he had instructed his employees not to do that again.

If confirmed, Acosta will be the first Hispanic member of the president’s Cabinet.

Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants — including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., had been scheduled for a confirmation hearing on Thursday after multiple delays. He faced criticism for his record his management of the company and for more personal issues, including a since-retracted domestic abuse allegation from his wife and hiring a housekeeper who came to the U.S. illegally.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

U.S. Added 227,000 Jobs In January, Outpacing Expectations Friday, Feb 3 2017 

The U.S. added 227,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate rose just slightly, ticking up a tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent, according to the monthly report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The robust jobs number beat most predictions from economists, who had pegged the payroll increase at 175,000, according to NPR’s Yuki Noguchi.

“That was better than most of us had been forecasting or expecting,” Hugh Johnson, chief economist at Hugh Johnson Advisors, told our Newscast unit.

NPR | wfpl.org

Civilian unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted (January 2007 to January 2017)

Several different sectors showed modest gains or stable numbers. Among other areas, construction, food services and health care all continued an upward trend in employment.

Meanwhile, average hourly wages showed a slight increase, rising by 3 cents, to $26, and adding to December’s 6-cent bump.

Revisions to the previous month’s estimates were modest, as the BLS ratcheted up December’s gains to 157,000 from 156,000 — the last report released during Barack Obama’s time in the White House. The agency took a scalpel to November’s relatively positive report, revising its estimates downward to 164,000 jobs from the previously reported 204,000.

The BLS reports that over the past three months, employment has increased by an average of 183,000 jobs per month.

Friday’s report is the first to be released in Donald Trump’s presidency, though the bulk of the data was recorded before he took office two weeks ago.

On the campaign trail, The Associated Press notes, Trump had expressed skepticism about the validity of these jobs reports:

“[Trump] argued that the government’s jobs data exaggerated the health of the economy. He called the unemployment rate a ‘hoax’ and said it declined after the recession under President Barack Obama mainly because many Americans stopped working or looking for work.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

With SummerWorks, Fischer Hopes To Nurture Future Talent Wednesday, Feb 1 2017 

Just a week after graduating high school in 2016, Kenneth Albyati was happy to be making more cash.

Up until May of last year he worked at Taco Bell, a job he began when he was 16 years old. His mom told him about SummerWorks, a program for young workers, and he got a job at GE making more than $11 per hour.

SummerWorks was started in 2011 by Mayor Greg Fischer and that year, helped 200 young people find jobs. Last year, more than 5,000 young workers found jobs through the program at more than 140 organizations.

On Wednesday, Fischer announced the launch of SummerWorks 2017, operated by Kentuckianaworks of Louisville Metro.

Albyati, now 18, has a full-time job at GE and takes classes at Jefferson Community and Technical College. He was offered the full-time position after his stint with SummerWorks.

“I never called in or anything and I always had my safety gear with me,” he said of his time with the company last summer.

Albyati said he was treated like any other employee. And he said making sure he followed the rules helped him snag a full-time job.

“I think that was a big role in them hiring me,” he said.

He wants to be a mechanical engineer when he’s older.

Businesses participating in SummerWorks 2017 include 4th Street Live, Norton Healthcare and UPS. Companies who can’t hire but still would like to participate can donate $2,500, which would fund a summer job at a nonprofit or city agency.

“Summer jobs are critical building blocks for young people, and SummerWorks is crucial for the health of the local economy because it creates a pipeline of future talent,” said Fischer in a news release.

Jonese Franklin

19-year-old Javoughn Brown

Javoughn Brown, 19, also was employed last year through SummerWorks. His post was at Kindred Healthcare.

“It really taught me how to work in a corporate setting,” Brown said. “I learned about project management, how to manage other people, especially if they were my age or younger or older.”

Brown wants to be a social worker.

“So in a few years, when I’m a grad student or working in a social work office or working somewhere, the skills I learned this past summer will walk with me forever,” he said.

Employers who’d like to participate, as well as young job seekers ages 16-21, can now sign up on the program’s website.

With New Hub, Will Amazon Make A Play On UPS In Kentucky? Wednesday, Feb 1 2017 

Amazon’s announcement of a new Prime Air hub in Northern Kentucky on Tuesday had business leaders and elected officials in celebration mode. The $1.5 billion facility, which Amazon says will bring with it 2,000 jobs, is the biggest single investment ever in Northern Kentucky.

Here in Louisville, UPS dominates the logistics game. And Amazon is one of its customers — at least for now. But logistics in the commonwealth might be on its way to some disruption.

Listen to the story in the audio player above.

If Women Rule The Fundraising Game, Why Don’t They Hold More Top Positions? Tuesday, Jan 31 2017 

In the fundraising world, the future is in fact, female.

About 80 percent of workers in the field are women. As philanthropy is projected to slightly increase in 2017 and 2018, women are in the foreground of the donation business.

“It’s an area of great attraction to women,” said Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Research. “There’s a lot of relationship building and dealing directly with people, and that attracts a lot of women into the field.”

Burk conducts research on donors and philanthropy. She was in Louisville recently to present at Donor-Centered Fundraising, an event by the Center For Nonprofit Excellence.

Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Research

Although women run the fundraising world, Burk said at the management level, that 80 percent figure flips. Four out of five fundraisers at senior positions are men. And much like tech, engineering, and the corporate sector, fundraising may not be doing a great job attracting female talent to top positions.

In Louisville, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, which provides training and other services to nonprofits in the area, keeps a database of their members. Of the more than 200 active members, 43 positions related to fundraising and development are held by men.

Although this isn’t a complete representation of all nonprofits in the region, these numbers correlate with fundraising being a predominately female business. And while there aren’t as many women in senior level positions within the industry, the same goes for the ratio of women to men holding board positions.

According to the 2016 Survey of the Greater Louisville Nonprofit Sector, as an organization’s budget size increases, the number of women on the governing board declines.

“Women are very well represented in some of our smaller nonprofit organizations and in budget sizes up to a million [dollars],” said Gregory Nielsen, CEO of the Center For Nonprofit Excellence. “But once you hit that million dollar threshold, what we saw was that female representation on nonprofit boards declined in a measurable way.”

Kelly Hutchinson has been director of development at Day Spring Community Living for three years and has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. Hutchinson said she got into fundraising partly because of the skills she’d learn but also to make an impact on her community.

“I kind of always had the need to have some sort of an outcome beyond a paycheck or making a corporation better,” she said.

Those skills Hutchinson said she has learned over the years include marketing, event planning, management, research and data. She said development and fundraising are more than just bake sales.

“Some people don’t have the appreciation for the actual skills it takes to be a fundraiser,” she said.

Penelope Burk of Cygnus Research said one way to get more women in higher positions is offering better job benefits including professional development and flexible work environments — especially since most household responsibilities are still shouldered by women.

Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Marta Miranda-Straub, president of the Center for Women and Families

Marta Miranda-Straub, president of the Center for Women and Families, attended the event in which Burk spoke. She’s already employed tactics Burk suggests that would help maintain female staff, as well as getting them into senior management.

“We have a lot of support for self-care,” said Miranda-Straub. “It’s actually part of our coaching and performance evaluation. And we have a very flexible personal time off.”

Better work benefits is just part of the puzzle. The other part is changing the perspective and narrative that men are better prospects for top jobs.

Mayor’s Office Pushes Back On Trump’s Immigration Orders Wednesday, Jan 25 2017 

The office of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is keeping an eye on the Trump administration’s moves regarding immigration.

President Trump on Wednesday signed a pair of executive orders aimed at immigration and border security. The measures will further his call to build a wall along the United State’s southern border with Mexico and bolster American deportation efforts.

Fischer has long touted the city’s openness to immigrants. And late last year he unveiled an economic directive that hinges on a steady flow of immigrants into Louisville.

Shortly after Trump’s signing of the executive orders, a spokesman for Fischer, Chris Poynter, issued a statement stressing that Louisville “is a compassionate and welcoming city that recognizes the value of increasing our diversity and the many contributions that immigrants, including refugees, make in our city.”

Poynter said any effort to target immigrant communities in Louisville is concerning, as is the failure to recognize the economic and cultural contributions immigrants provide in the city and across the country.

“We will continue to monitor the efforts of the new administration and work with our community partners to respond appropriately,” he said.

The foreign-born population in Louisville is projected to nearly double in the next decade, according to a report from the Kentucky State Data Center. By 2040, foreign-born residents will make up nearly a fifth of Louisville’s population, far outpacing the immigration of domestic-born residents to the city, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

Fischer is counting on these residents to help fill some 29,000 open jobs across the region, and in December, unveiled an action plan focused on attracting and assimilating immigrants in the area.

And though one of Trump’s executive orders will restore the Secure Communities Program, which NPR reports ceased to operate in 2014 after being used by past presidential administrations to force local governments to share data on undocumented immigrants, Fischer has repeatedly stressed that local police “won’t be participating in any mass deportation.”

For Kentuckians With Disabilities, STABLE Accounts Help Plan For The Future Thursday, Jan 19 2017 

People with disabilities who receive benefits and Medicaid are now eligible for accounts that would also allow them to save and invest money.

Prior to mid-December, a person receiving these benefits could not have more than $2,000 in assets, or they’d be cut off from their benefits and Medicaid.

The accounts — referred to as STABLE accounts — were made possible by the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, Act. The federal act was passed in 2014 and permits those receiving disability benefits to have accounts that would help with living and career expenses, for example, that are not covered by current benefits.

The program was rolled out last year by the state treasurer.  As of early January, 42 people have enrolled in Kentucky.

Amanda Stahl is a counselor to people with developmental disabilities and a Medicaid recipient herself. When we spoke earlier this week, she was planning to sign up for her own STABLE account.

“It’s really hard to live on $2,000 without a savings account or a back up account,” she says. “I have to pay for a lot of things that Medicaid won’t pay for to be successful in my career and in my life. These accounts allow us to save money and also us to work and pay taxes and be able to support the programs that we’re under.”

Along with being able to contribute up to $14,000 per year in the account, friends and family can also deposit cash in a loved one’s account. State Treasurer Allison Ball says that’s a big deal for many people.

“You actually jeopardize your benefits prior to STABLE accounts,” she said. “So people were very, very cautious. They could give little bits and help in very minimal ways. But in the past it was actually counted against you for your benefits you receive.”

An enrollee can have up to $100,000 in the account before it affects their benefits.

“It’s a pretty good amount of money; not an enormous amount but it’s enough to help people when they need help,” says Ball.

For the lifetime of the account, a person can have approximately $426,000. One of the five types of accounts, the Bank Safe Option, is FDIC-insured.

Eligible uses for the money include housing, education, and employment training.

Trump’s Choice For Commerce Left Mixed Legacy In Ohio Valley Monday, Jan 16 2017 

The billionaire Wilbur Ross is headed for Senate confirmation hearings as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of the Department of Commerce.

Ross made it to ultra-rich status in part by salvaging coal and steel assets in Appalachia and the Rust Belt. His business dealings leave a mixed legacy in the Ohio Valley region, from rescued steel mills to the site of a searing workplace disaster, and raise questions about the leadership he would bring to the president’s cabinet.

Senate Commerce Committee staff

Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross meets Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

Billions from Bankrupt Mines

Wilbur Ross made his billions from bankruptcies. He specialized in scooping up troubled steel and coal companies with an eye toward reselling them later at a profit.

Ross founded International Coal Group (ICG) in 2004 when he and other investors bought the assets of Kentucky-based Horizon Natural Resources in a bankruptcy auction. (The investors purchased only Horizon’s non-union operations. A bankruptcy court later stripped the workers at Horizon’s unionized mines of many of their benefits.) ICG soon had more than a dozen mines in Kentucky, Ohio, and the Illinois coal basin and was looking to buy more.

Early in 2005 the company initiated the purchase of mines from the financially struggling Anker Coal Group in West Virginia. Anker would expand ICG’s holdings of “metallurgical” coal, used in steel production. One of the Anker mines, the Sago Mine in West Virginia’s Upshur County, had a particularly poor record of worker safety, with hundreds of violations on record. But ICG pushed ahead with the deal and owned Anker mines by October of that year.

On the second day of 2006, a lighting bolt somehow met methane gas underground sparking an explosion at the Sago Mine that would leave 12 miners dead.

The Sago Disaster

The Sago disaster unfolded in dramatic and particularly bitter fashion. Miners trapped by the explosion had barricaded themselves in a sealed-off chamber deep in the mine to await rescue. But all but one had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning before rescuers could reach them.

As family members huddled in a nearby church, an error in communications led them to think the miners had been found alive. Even the state’s governor, Joe Manchin, burst out of the church to share with reporters news of a miraculous rescue, only to learn shortly after that a dozen men were dead. (Manchin, a Democrat, is now the state’s senior Senator and sits on the Commerce Committee, which will question Ross Wednesday. The ReSource asked Sen. Manchin and Mr. Ross for comment. Neither responded.)

An independent investigation found the disaster could have been prevented. An idled portion of the mine could have been more securely sealed. Authorities could have been notified sooner (more than an hour passed before federal officials were told of the explosion) and rescuers could have entered the mine earlier. Mine safety expert Davitt McAteer led that investigation.

“Mr. Ross was noticeable by his absence,” McAteer said, recalling the nearly two-day ordeal at the disaster scene. “He didn’t show up, though — being president of ICG — he was the ultimate responsible party.”

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Media at the scene of the explosion at the Sago Mine in January, 2006.

Ross later told New York magazine that he’s haunted by the deaths at Sago. The company set up funds for families of victims but also faced wrongful death suits and penalties and fines from mine safety regulators.

Now, a decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find people in the region who even know who Ross is.

Roger Nicholson, general counsel at ICG when Sago exploded, said that’s normal.

“I think it’s an unreasonable expectation that he be known perhaps in any of the areas where his portfolio companies operate,” Nicholson said. “We don’t expect that of the chairman of McDonald’s Corporation, to be at every operation of everything that he might have an investment in.”

Still, some remember him. Bill Hamilton, a West Virginia state legislator from the Sago region, remembers Trump’s early announcement for secretary of commerce.

“My first thought was, if Wilbur Ross is going in there, well, he’s a businessman,” Hamilton said. “He buys companies that are bankrupt, tries to reorganize them, sells them for a profit and moves on.”

Hamilton said he was immediately concerned about potential influence of this shrewd businessman on the pending Miners Protection Act, a federal bill that would provide health benefits for retired miners and their widows.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A memorial for some of the 12 miners killed in the Sago disaster.

Fouled Water, Faked Records  

Ross’ practice of plucking out parts of failing companies has earned him several nicknames, including “King of Bankruptcy.” Some call him a phoenix that rises up from the ashes of burnt industries; others think of him as a vulture.

The social justice nonprofit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth was involved in litigation over water pollution caused by ICG mines. The mines were sending runoff into streams with high levels of selenium, which can be harmful to people at high levels and is toxic to much aquatic wildlife. The lawsuit not only pointed out the company’s pollution, it also presented evidence that ICG’s water discharge reports to state regulators were fraudulent.

Teri Blanton, a former chairperson for the citizens’ group, said Ross’ leadership of the company he formed was largely to blame. She worries about his nomination.

“If he would put [ICG] together and have total disregard for people’s lives he was operating around, how could we expect him to take such a high position and care about the people of the United States of America?” Blanton asked.

ICG ended up settling and paying $575,000 in penalties for the water pollution violations.

In 2011 the company was sold to Arch Coal for $3.4 billion, the largest acquisition in Arch’s history. It yielded a handsome profit for ICG’s owners that the New York Times “Dealbook” called a “vindication” for Ross. Five years later, Arch filed for bankruptcy.

Saving U.S. Steel?

“From my dealings with Wilbur, he was a believer in domestic manufacturing,” said longtime president of the United Steelworkers, Leo Gerard. Gerard was there more than a decade ago to see Ross buy up major failing steel companies when no one else would.

Ross bought assets from a dozen collapsing steel companies between 2002 and 2004, including Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Weirton Steel. By purchasing only certain assets but not the entire company, Ross avoided taking on some of the company’s more costly obligations, including some health and pension guarantees to steelworkers. He sold the companies in 2005 to a company overseas called Mittal for $4.5 billion — fourteen times what he initially invested. Today Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest steel producer.

Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

A Weirton Steel facility in the upper Ohio River valley. Ross’ International Steel Group purchased many of the financially struggling company’s assets.

Gerard points out that many of the assets Ross bought still exist as a result, including thousands of jobs.

He also says the demise of the steel industry in the U.S. has little to do with antiquated mills or labor costs.

“U.S. trade laws don’t work — period,” Gerard stated emphatically.

This is an area where labor finds common ground with the billionaire investor. When pressed for answers about national commerce priorities, Ross also focuses on the shortcomings of U.S. trade policy.

A month ago on Fox Business Network, Ross said addressing current U.S. trade policies was a top priority.

“We’re going to go in a scheduled way through trade agreements,” Ross said, “through the [countries] we do have trade agreements with and [countries] we do not. Because we’re not anti-trade agreement, we’re anti ones-that-don’t-make-sense.”

Ross calls President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade deal seven years in the making — a “figment of people’s imagination,” and he wants to totally rework NAFTA.

Ross also hopes to see ten percent of environmental regulations undone to make more comfortable business environments (although the secretary of commerce does not directly control many of those regulations other than fishing in U.S. waters).

Ohio Valley Implications

Gerard believes improved trade agreements will allow the steel industry to grow, and that, he says, would also mean more coal mining.

“You can’t make steel without coal,” Gerard said. “So if we grow the steel industry back by standing up for domestic manufacturing, then you’ll obviously have to have some expansion of the coal industry.”

Davitt McAteer is less optimistic about the “King of Bankruptcy” taking over the Commerce Department.

“From the standpoint of looking at how you might build the economy up through the creation of jobs, that’s not been the way he’s operated in the past,” McAteer said. “Mr. Ross is noted for buying companies that are in trouble, selling off the good parts, and dropping the others.”

A confirmation hearing for Wilbur Ross is scheduled for January 18 in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

In Old Louisville, Loss Of Kroger Could Bring Isolation Sunday, Jan 15 2017 

The shoppers at the Kroger in Old Louisville on a recent morning included a mom at the checkout counter buying hair products and pacifiers, a dad with his infant strapped in front while looking at his grocery list in his left hand, and a woman in a wheelchair perusing the meat aisle.

Workers unpacked boxes of drinks and sold cakes and cookies in the bakery.

Mike Clark, 25, takes a bus downtown every day. He came to shop at the Kroger on his silver folding bike while on break. He bought apples and bananas to get him through until wrestling practice later in the day.

“Kroger’s a pretty decent place to get some organic stuff,” he said.

Roxanne Scott

Mike Clark

No matter if you’re buying pasta, cucumbers or almond butter, when you walk through this Kroger, you find an adequate supermarket. But it’s also a place where neighbors catch up and keep up with the news.

That will change at 6:01 p.m. on Saturday, January 28. The grocery store, which has been in the neighborhood for 37 years, will close its magnetic glass doors for good.

The owners, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, want to sell the property instead of continuing a lease, according to Tim McGurk, Kroger spokesman. He said the supermarket chain attempted to extend the lease until 2017, but those offers were rejected.

The building is for sale for $1.6 million.

For now, that leaves downtown — and surrounding neighborhoods like this one — without a grocery store nearby. And the people who will feel it most are those who don’t just prize the convenience of a supermarket close by but depend on it.

Low-Income Families Lose Support

Sure, there are places to buy food in and around Old Louisville, including restaurants and fast-food joints.

But good luck to a shopper looking for a place to buy milk and bread after they get off work in the evening. Or the Old Louisville resident who depends on the Kroger pharmacy. Or one of the 520 families in the area who use WIC, the supplemental food program for low-income women and their children.

“The Second Street Kroger is by far the largest WIC vendor in the area and has the largest offering of fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods,” said Brandy Kelly Pryor, director of Louisville Metro’s Center for Health Equity.

There are options to help bridge the gap that will be left by Kroger’s departure. The Gray Street Farmers Market is in nearby Phoenix Hill, for example. There are also several community gardens downtown and in Old Louisville.

But farmers markets typically operate between spring and fall. And they don’t often have much beyond fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.

Cassia Herron is a community development professional and one of the organizers behind the Louisville Food Co-op initiative, which is seeking to create a community-owned grocery store run by a board. The plan is still in development, and the group’s goal is to be up and running in at least three years.

Along with WIC families, the elderly are also a population that depended on a nearby supermarket and pharmacy, Herron said.

“I’m very disheartened that those folks aren’t going to be served,” she said.

Scale is Critical — and Scarce

Community gardens and farmers markets are part of an ecosystem of food that supports neighborhoods, but alone they’re not enough.

“In Louisville, the consumer demand for food is about $3 billion a year. And apart from it being a huge economic engine … it becomes an engine for health and well-being,” Pryor says.

In other words, aisles of cheese, eggs and peanut butter also spark social connectivity, Pryor said. For some vulnerable residents, a trip to the supermarket may be the only meaningful social interaction they get for the day.

For some shoppers, like Mike Clark, the simple solution is to go to another grocery store.

“I’ll probably ride my bike to other stores. There’s a Kroger up the road by U of L,” he says. “Stores close all the time.”

For others, it may not be so straightforward.

“Not only are we talking about nutrition, not only are we talking about women and families,” Pryor said, but isolation.

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