As Craft Beer Thrives In Kentucky, Local Hops Producers Feel Growing Pains Thursday, Jul 21 2016 

Leah Dienes is up on a gray Tuesday morning with her two cats — Saki and Hiro — brewing beer. Saki and Hiro are working cats — they help keep mice away from the bags of grain that sit just behind Apocalypse Brew Works in Louisville. 

Saki sits atop a bar stool while Hiro (not pictured) hunts for mice.Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Saki sits atop a bar stool while Hiro (not pictured) hunts for mice.

Dienes is co-owner and head brewer at Apocalypse. Her great-great-uncles were brewers in the city, too. But that’s not why she got into brewing. She describes her fascination with beer as a hobby that went awry.

Apocalypse’s beer is made in Louisville. And some of the grain is sourced locally. But when it comes to hops, Dienes has to import them from other parts of the country, or from around the world.

“We use some from New Zealand; they’re a big hops producer,” she says. “And then the West Coast, it’s mainly the West Coast that’s producing. That’s where we’re getting a lot of them from.”

Kentucky has no problem branding itself. The state is known for its horse racing, basketball, tobacco and, of course, bourbon. But when it comes to craft beer, locally-grown Kentucky hops, at least right now, just doesn’t cut it.

The Pacific Northwest is responsible for more than 90 percent of hops production in the U.S. The 27 breweries in Kentucky mostly buy the hops they need elsewhere, from places such as Washington, Idaho and Oregon. There’s not many options for breweries here that want to buy local as far as their hops.

About 90 miles from Apocalypse Brew Works, it’s a clear Saturday morning on a farm near Winchester, just east of Lexington. The Kentucky Hop Growers Alliance is having their monthly meeting to chat all things hops. The dozen or so attendees use it as a chance to air the concerns, and talk about the growth they see in local hops — even selling them to breweries in Kentucky.

The fermenter (right) at Apocalypse Brew Works

Shawn Wright is one of the attendees. He’s a horticulturist at the University of Kentucky. When asked about the commercial hops industry in the commonwealth, he says he’s “cautiously optimistic.”

“There’s certainly a good market for locally-produced hops,” he says. “The big question is going to be the economics of it. We have challenges here in Kentucky that some of our growers out West don’t have to deal with. We have more disease pressure and things.”

Another immediate problem for Kentucky is supply. Right now, there are about 20 acres of commercial hops yards in the state. If you compare that to out West, there are more than 32,000 acres just in the state of Washington.

But there’s no reason Kentucky can’t eventually catch up to the West. Hops is native to Kentucky. And the Eastern U.S. was once a huge producer of hops. An outbreak of downy mildew changed that in the early 20th century. Now, most of the country’s hops production is on the West Coast.

Attendees at the Hop Growers Alliance meeting see potential. Pete Lahni is considering getting into the business.

“I think there’s a lot of room to grow,” he says. “Everybody’s gotta go through their growing pains. It’s definitely an industry that can grow with the way that the craft brewing industry is growing out of control.”

There are 4-6 new breweries opening in the state this year, and beer production has an estimated economic impact of almost $500 million in Kentucky, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group. Local hop growers want to cash in.

Back at Apocalypse, Leah Dienes says there’s a chance Apocalypse Brew Works could be buying locally-sourced hops soon. She recently got an email about it.

Leah Dienes

“They wanna meet and see what kind of hops and see if we’d be interested,” she says. “We use all the hops that they’re growing, which is a plus.”

There’s good reason to be cautious. But Dienes and others have good reason to also be optimistic. 

Which Regulations Would Small Business Owners Get Rid Of? Friday, Jul 8 2016 

This week, Gov. Matt Bevin announced his Red Tape Reduction initiative to review regulations that may be a burden on Kentucky businesses.

Bevin hasn’t said which specific rules he’d like to eliminate.

I talked to a few small business owners in Louisville and asked what regulatory burdens they’d like to get rid of.

Featured: Pamela Haines of Sweet Peaches Restaurant, men’s clothing shop owner Rev. Gerome Sutton and Mark Miller of MillerTyme Barbershop.

Where Does The Phrase ‘Red Tape’ Come From? Wednesday, Jul 6 2016 

In a video Wednesday announcing his administration’s new Red Tape Reduction initiative, Gov. Matt Bevin stands with his right arm around a maroon-colored sign with a drawing of a horse jockey. The sign reads “Exit to Kentucky.”

The video launched Bevin’s push to reduce the number of state regulations — red tape, as he calls it — in an effort to get businesses to think about Kentucky when they’re considering locating or relocating.

That got us wondering: Where does the phrase “red tape” come from?

Andrew Rabin, a professor of English at the University of Louisville, says the term “red tape” comes from the filing practices of the 16th century.

Picture this: an archive with miles and miles of documents from all of Europe. Binding those documents with red tape, or red ribbon, became the most convenient, but also the most visible way to keep track of the them, Rabin says.

“And so that’s why you would have these vast archives of pile of document after pile of document, each pile bound with the distinctive red tape that was a sign of government usage,” he says.

The term today is coded language employed mostly by those who are politically opposed to bigger government.

“Now it’s come to mean something similar to government obstruction or bureaucratic obstruction,” Rabin says. “So if I have to fight my way through a series of documents or fight my way through a series of forms, if there’s something I want to achieve but seemingly meaningless procedure gets in the way — I’m fighting my way through red tape.”

Bevin’s Red Tape Reduction effort is supported by the Kentucky Petroleum Marketers Association, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Retail Federation, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and Associated General Contractors of Kentucky.

Bevin’s office has set up a website, RedTapeReduction.com where people can “report a reg” and describe how the policy is “hurting you/your business.”

Net Gains: How Broadband Brings Jobs To Eastern Kentucky Tuesday, Jul 5 2016 

Kentucky is working on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring broadband internet to the eastern part of the state, home to some of the country’s most impoverished places. A federal report released this year found that from around a third to nearly half of rural residents in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia lack high-speed internet and the job opportunities that come with it.

But a few areas are ahead of the curve. In Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley counties, broadband has already arrived — and is already creating jobs.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

With a population of 1,095, Annville, Kentucky is one of the bigger towns in Jackson County. It’s surrounded by grassy fields and rolling hills, which are the inspiration for the county’s tourism slogan: “Where the Mountains and the Bluegrass Blend.”

It’s not easy to find a job in Jackson County. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Most people who have jobs work outside the county. For Annville resident Alisha Tanfield, those long, costly commutes made it hard to make ends meet.

“After you pay gas, you’re not making anything,” she said.

rural-broadband-access-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

If you’re barely getting by and your livelihood depends on a long commute, car troubles can create a major crisis. When Tanfield’s car broke down, she lost what income she had and found herself struggling to provide for her two daughters.

Then Tanfield heard about a friend who had found a work-from-home job through the Teleworks USA job board. Tanfield said she’d always been curious about work-from-home jobs but hadn’t tried applying for any because she thought a lot of them are scams.

Opportunity Online

Teleworks USA is part of a federally-funded workforce development program based in Eastern Kentucky. Its online job-board lists hundreds of vetted and verified postings for telework jobs — customer service positions that involve handling incoming calls (so, not telemarketing) and, the kicker is, these jobs can be done from home — as long as you have a good internet connection.

Alisha Tanfield's job has helped her stay in Jackson Co., Kentucky.Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Alisha Tanfield’s job has helped
her stay in Jackson Co., Kentucky.

Teleworks USA also operates hubs like the one that opened three years ago in Annville. These brick-and-mortar locations offer training to help get and keep a telework job, and they also offer computers with headsets and a good internet connection. For people like Tanfield who find themselves without transportation or means for getting internet at home, a Teleworks hub provides all the resources to get a job and get back on their feet.

After a couple of trips to the Annville hub, Tanfield landed a job with 1-800 Flowers. For months she walked the 2 miles to work, even on the coldest winter days. With steady employment, she was able to get a car and catch up on her bills. Then she was able to switch to a teleworks job with U-Haul. It’s part-time work but has higher pay and more flexible hours.

You can tell how happy Tanfield is with her job by the amount she smiles and laughs when she talks about it.

“I have a good paycheck, I have a car, my bills are paid, and I have money to go do stuff with my girls,” she said. “I love it.”

Tanfield just got internet installed at her home, and that brings some new benefits. For one, there are no transportation costs. Also, Tanfield can watch her kids during the day, which means she doesn’t have to pay for childcare, and her husband — who works night shifts — can get some sleep. Plus, Tanfield said, it’s become especially helpful that she can stay home because she’s pregnant with twins and her due-date is approaching.

eky-unemployment-heatmapAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Working from home seems to make a huge difference in how teleworkers feel about their jobs. Tanfield said she once started job training at a call center. After spending a day sitting in a loud and crowded room with managers looking over her shoulder, she left and never came back.

Betty Hays, an Annville native who is the operations manager for Teleworks USA, said you can see the difference in the retention rates. She said Teleworks USA has a 65 percent retention rate, while the rate at a call center where she used to work was closer to 30 percent.

“It  was like a revolving door,” she said.

Making Connections

In many rural areas, it’s just not possible to do telework from home. These jobs require a strong internet connection, which 39 percent of rural residents in the U.S. don’t have.

But Annville, the rest of Jackson County, and neighboring Owsley County all have an exceptionally strong internet connection. In 2015, a local telecom company finished connecting every home and business in the two counties to a high-speed fiber-optic network.

Keith Gabbard helped get rural Kentucky counties connected to broadband.Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Keith Gabbard helped get rural Kentucky counties connected to broadband.

Keith Gabbard is the CEO of People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative, or PRTC. He said his company got help from federal loans and grants to complete the $50 million project. That gave the two economically struggling counties internet that’s eight times faster than the national average.

“Instead of Jackson and Owsley County being behind others in roads and other things like we often are,” Gabbard said, “we’re sort of a little bit ahead of the game now.”

What’s your speed?

How does your internet connection measure up? Click to take a speed test.Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

How does your internet connection measure up? Click to take a speed test.

The connectivity that PRTC brought to Jackson and Owsley counties has made it possible for Teleworks USA to help a lot of people like Tanfield. Teleworks USA has brought more than 200 jobs into Jackson County.

“That’s probably the best example we have to show that the availability of high-speed broadband is actually making a difference in the job market,” Gabbard said.

Owsley County is facing some even bigger economic struggles than Jackson County. It has a higher unemployment rate at more than 9 percent. It also has the fifth-highest poverty rate in the United States and the third-lowest median household income.

Molly Turner leads the nonprofit Owsley County Action Team, and her organization is following Jackson County’s example. She said 10 years of federal tax incentives failed to bring any new manufacturing jobs to Owsley County, so they need to try new things like an internet economy.

The Owsley County Action Team found partners to support a new Teleworks hub in Owsley County, which is slated to open in early July.

“We’re hoping to see the same progress that Jackson County has seen,” she said.

Molly Turner helped bring this telework hub to Owsley Co., Kentucky.Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Molly Turner helped bring this telework hub to Owsley Co., Kentucky.

Owsley County has lost 6 percent of its population since 2010 — the fourth-highest out-migration rate in Kentucky. Turner hopes Teleworks jobs will help people to stay where they’d prefer to live.

“You hear that all the time: ‘No jobs for me here, so I’m going to have to leave,’” she said. “But I want to see that if people are content to live a rural lifestyle that they be able to stay here and at the same time make a decent living.”

Given how things have played out for people like Alisha Tanfield, Turner’s hopes don’t seem so outlandish. Combining a strong internet connection and Teleworks USA might go a long way toward turning around the economy in rural areas like the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

For The Fourth, Fireworks Sales Boom Across The River Sunday, Jul 3 2016 

Darren McKinley asks a customer if they’ll being paying cash or credit at the Phantom Fireworks cash register. The customer pulls out neatly folded twenties as workers pack their bags on the Friday morning before the Fourth of July holiday.

It’s 8:30 a.m., and three customers have entered the store so far. It’s expected to get busy later in the day.

As many spend time with family and friends this holiday weekend, there’s one group that’s especially excited about this time of year: fireworks retailers. This busy season accounts for most of their sales for the entire year.

“About 75 to 80 percent of revenue comes between May and early July,” McKinley says of Phantom in Clarksville, Indiana. The store’s general manager has worked in fireworks retail for 20 years.

Next door to Phantom is Pyro City Fireworks in Clarksville. Stephen George | wfpl.org

Next door to Phantom is Pyro City Fireworks in Clarksville.

Those sales at Phantom mostly come from the Louisville metro area, where a local ordinance prohibits fireworks that project into the air or explode.

There are other times of the year that his store may get busy. For example, during Diwali, the store sees a spike in sales from the area’s Hindu population.

But the revenue during that time doesn’t compare to this season. McKinley ramps up to 40 workers around the Fourth of July just to keep up with sales. The rest of the year, the staff is made up of him and two assistant managers.

“We had one individual come in and spend $5,000,” says Larissa Neville, head cashier at Phantom. She’s a nursing student at Indiana University Southeast. She’s been working here for the past three years during the busy season and was just promoted to head cashier.

“The fiery frog is really popular,” she says. “We’re always re-stocking the fiery frog.”

Popular among kids, for $5.99 you can buy the green, frog-shaped item with blue bulging eyes that sprouts sparkles from its mouth. Mortars, which are launched from a tube on the ground, are also popular in the store.

Nick Harden is a fan of mortars. The 11-year-old and his family pull up in a navy blue Chevy pickup truck. His dad and uncle paid for more than $200 worth of fireworks.

“We usually get a lot of stuff and have a pretty good time,” Harden says. He says he’s anxiously awaiting this weekend.

He’s not the only one excited about this time of year.

Louisville’s Minimum Wage Goes Up Friday Friday, Jul 1 2016 

Workers making minimum wage in Louisville will get a pay bump Friday. They’ll be doing 50 cents better, making $8.25 an hour.

When the proposal was floated last year, some of the city’s business owners feared job losses. But Kenny Colston of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy says that hasn’t been the case.

“We haven’t seen people running for the hills or running to Indiana or Bullitt County when it comes to job losses,” Colston says. “We just haven’t seen that.”

In fact, over the past year, the city’s unemployment rate dropped from 5 percent to 4.4 percent.

Louisville’s minimum wage will eventually go up to $9 an hour on July 1, 2017.

Caitlin Lally works for UFCW Local 227 — the union that represents food and retail workers. She and other advocates believe a wage that a worker in Louisville can afford the necessities is $10.10 an hour.

“We’ve been very clear that while we’re happy to see wages going up, it’s nowhere near enough,” she said.

Whether the wage increase will be permanent is up to the state Supreme Court. The court is expected to rule this year on whether local governments can raise the minimum wage within their boundaries.

Listen to the audio in the player above. 

UPS, Pilots Reach Tentative Deal On New Labor Contract Thursday, Jun 30 2016 

The Independent Pilots Association and UPS Airlines have reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year labor contract.

Officials said on Thursday that details would not be released until IPA presents the proposed deal to all UPS pilots.

“This tentative agreement has been unanimously approved and endorsed by both the IPA executive board and our negotiating committee,” said IPA president, Captain Robert Travis in a news release. “Over the next month we will present it to our members with an unqualified recommendation for ratification.”

Brendan Canavan, UPS Airlines president, called the offer “excellent” and said UPS is pleased to have reached a deal.

“This contract rewards our crewmembers for their outstanding contributions and contains provisions that protect UPS’s ability to deliver competitive service to our global customers,” he said.

UPS pilots have been working under the terms of their previous contract for five years. The IPA, which represents some 2,600 pilots, was preparing for the possibility of a strike. Union officials previously said some of the sticking points involved flight schedules and crew fatigue.

The contract must be ratified by a majority of UPS’s pilots. The vote by the pilots is expected to be completed on Aug. 31.

Kentuckians Will Get $100 Million From Volkswagen Settlement Tuesday, Jun 28 2016 

Kentuckians who bought Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” cars will receive restitution, and the state will get millions to offset pollution. The details of the settlement were announced Tuesday.

Dozens of class action lawsuits were filed last year after the German car company admitted it had rigged many of its vehicles to cheat emissions tests. These cars — including 2009-2015 Jettas, 2010-2015 Audi A3s and Golfs, and 2012-2015 Beetles and Passats — were billed as “clean diesel.” In fact, they emitted more pollution than was advertised.

Louisville attorney Alex Davis filed an initial class action lawsuit on behalf of local Volkswagen owner Robert Wagner and others. That lawsuit was eventually consolidated with others filed by attorneys and state attorneys general.

“We’re still evaluating the details; this is a very complicated settlement,” Davis said. “But my initial impression is that this is going to go a long way toward making things right with all of Volkswagen’s customers.”

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced the settlement Tuesday, and estimated the total value will exceed $100 million for Kentuckians.

There are three main parts of the settlement: owner restitution, an environmental trust and civil penalties. For anyone in Kentucky who owns one of the Volkswagen’s affected by the scandal, the first one is the most pertinent.

So, here’s what you get.

•    Everyone eligible has the option of either selling their vehicle back to Volkswagen at its pre-scandal value, or having the emissions system modified to meet pollution standards.

•    Regardless of which option you choose, there’s also an additional payment.

  1.     If you bought the vehicle before September 18, 2015: Everyone eligible gets a lump sum payment, regardless of whether they choose to sell the car back or modify it. That amount depends on how much the car is worth; it’ll be at least $5,100 but could be more if 20 percent of the vehicle’s value is more than that amount.
  2.     If you bought the vehicle after September 18, 2015: Everyone eligible gets half of what the people who bought their cars earlier get (see above), plus an additional amount of money from a pool that’s set aside and divvied up among eligible owners.

•    If you have a loan on your vehicle and choose to sell it back, Volkswagen will pay off the balance of the loan and give you a check for the rest.

•    If the amount of money owed on the vehicle is more than the payout, Volkswagen will pay off the outstanding loan, up to 130 percent of what your payout would be.

Beshear said that 3,200 Kentuckians will be individually affected by the settlement.

The settlement also sets up a national environmental trust to reduce nitrogen oxides, which is the major pollutant emitted by Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles. Beshear said Kentucky’s initial share of that money is at least $19 million.

“We’ll be working with other entities within state government on the use of those funds and those projects that will reduce those emissions,” he said. “We are very excited about that portion of the settlement and we think that is of incredible value and can support some very important projects that will improve the overall health of Kentuckians into the future.”

Volkswagen will also pay millions in civil penalties, including $3,471,600 to Kentucky. That’s $1,100 for every affected vehicle sold in the commonwealth.

Final approval of the settlement is expected in October.

Louisville’s Top Earners Make Nearly 20 Times The Average Income, New Report Says Thursday, Jun 16 2016 

New data show that while the wealthy in Kentucky keep earning more money, the poor continue to make even less.

The report from the Economic Policy Institute, which uses IRS income data from 2013, found income inequality has increased in every state since the 1970s.

In Kentucky, the wealthiest 1 percent make an average of $619,585 per year, while the bottom 99 percent earn an annual income of $37,371, according to the report. This means the state’s top earners make nearly 17 times more than the rest of the Kentuckians are averaging, which is up from about 10 times more in 1979.

Kenton County, in northern Kentucky, had the biggest income gap, with its top 1 percent earning nearly 22 times more than the rest of the county. In Jefferson County, the top 1 percent of earners made 19.1 times more than the county’s average income.

EPISource: Economic Policy Institute

Anna Baumann, a policy analyst from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said what’s happening in Kentucky reflects a nationwide trend.

“At the national level, and even in Kentucky, (income inequality is) returning to a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” said Baumann. “So there are some major causes for concern about the sustainability of that kind of income inequality for our economy.”

Baumann said the large income gap makes it harder for lower-income families to move out of poverty.

“(Income inequality) means we are funneling our income growth to those at the top, and that puts the American dream out of reach for a lot of people.”  

KCEP is pushing for tax reform to close loopholes for top earners and advocates raising the federal minimum wage.

The report ranked Kentucky 39th among the states in income inequality. New York ranks first, with its top 1 percent earning about $2 million per year. The state’s average annual salary is $44,000.

For National Bourbon Day: What Started The ‘Bourbon Boom?’ Tuesday, Jun 14 2016 

Hartfield & Company opened their doors in September of 2015, making it the first bourbon distillery in Bourbon County since Prohibition. It’s a small craft operation that opened with little fanfare — but it’s already outgrown its space.

“We can’t keep our stuff on the shelf, actually,” says founder Andrew Buchanan. “We are currently in about 2,000 square feet, but to keep up with demand we need a much larger facility and are moving into about an 18,000-square-foot building.”

This is just one example of the “bourbon boom” that the spirit industry is experiencing, and it’s a development that has a real economic impact in the state. As part of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair — a six-day schedule of tours and tastings at local distilleries — Mayor Greg Fischer welcomed nearly 2,000 thirsty visitors to the city Tuesday.

“Today is National Bourbon Day, and there’s no better place to celebrate our signature spirit this week than Louisville,” Fischer said in a news release. “We look forward to sharing our unique Bourbon culture and booming culinary scene with a glass of Kentucky’s finest amber nectar.”

Fred Minnick, author of “Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker,” says the increased demand for bourbon didn’t actually start with drinkers, but with the producers.

“The thing is, bourbon has always been here, has always been supporting the state,” Minnick says.

In 2009, an additional sales tax was added to bourbon distillers. After that, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association decided they were tired of paying more taxes.

If you bought a bottle of bourbon in the store, it was 60 percent tax,” Minnick says.

He says up until that point, distillers had often relied on “lore and legends” to sell their product, but they changed tactics to focus on the economic effects that bourbon had on the state. Distilleries began releasing or collaborating on impact studies in an effort to convince local governments to reduce taxes.

And it worked — leading, in part, to the subsequent surge in bourbon’s popularity.

A 2013 study by the University of Louisville found that Louisville is one of the biggest winners in the bourbon renaissance, with distillers providing 4,200 jobs, $263 million in payroll and $32 million in tax revenue each year.

Barry Kornstein, the lead researcher of the study, says bourbon also helps create jobs outside the industry.

“For every one job in the bourbon industry it leads to 3.5 jobs in other areas of the state, like in agriculture, for example,” Kornstein says.

And that number is growing, with nearly $130 million in capital investments as distilleries flock to the city and its historic Whiskey Row, including Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Brown-Forman’s Old Forester Bourbon Experience, Angel’s Envy, Kentucky Peerless, the Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery, the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, Michter’s, Copper & Kings and more.

“One of the things (distillers) like to say is that there is more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than people,” Minnick says. “It’s a fun little quote to throw out there, but it’s true. There is a lot of bourbon aging in warehouses here, and that’s all going to help build roads and schools and government infrastructure.”  

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