Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rural Ky. county decides some jobs cost too much

Opponents applauded when county officials
rejected the plan. (Lexington Herald-Leader)
Rural counties all over the country are trying desperately to attract more jobs, but what happens when the price of those jobs is considered too high? That was the dilemma faced by residents of rural Bourbon County, Kentucky, when Lockheed Martin wanted to open an industrial park that might have created 3,500 good jobs.

Lockheed Martin is the nation's largest defense contractor, and scored a Pentagon contract last summer to modify C-130 cargo planes for military special operations. The company wants to do that at Bluegrass Station, a military industrial park right next to Bourbon County. State officials made a proposal to the county's top official: If the county "acquired 2,500 acres of farmland — likely through condemnation, because most landowners didn’t want to sell — and built an industrial park with an 8,000-foot to 10,000-foot runway and two hangars, Lockheed Martin would create 350 jobs by 2020," Tom Eblen writes for The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky. If the industrial park filled with other tenants, state officials projected 3,500 jobs by 2027."

That sounded good to Bourbon County Judge-Executive Mike Williams, because his county has had the slowest growth in the Bluegrass region for decades. He wasn't allowed to tell the other Fiscal Court members about the proposal until Dec. 6, and Lockheed needed the officials' decision by Jan. 13. Locals, and the magistrates, were horrified and spoke out against the proposal. They didn't want to give up their farmland, which includes many horse farms, they said. Local infrastructure would need expensive improvements, and the jobs were only projections, not guarantees. So the Fiscal Court, Kentucky's version of a county commission, voted no.

Its decision was "courageous" and "struck a blow against corporate welfare," Eblen writes. Lockheed Martin has received more than $1 billion in state and local incentives in recent years despite $5 billion in profits, he notes. The officials "did a remarkable thing in this money-obsessed age."

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