Whitley, Laurel and Knox counties are all three currently considered “Work Ready In-Progress” communities on the cusp of reaching fully certified status, according to a state economic development official who spoke to members of the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.
Brooklyn Leep, Project Manager with the Kentucky Office of Workforce, Community Development and Research, was the featured speaker at the chamber’s monthly membership luncheon, held at the Corbin Center.
Her office is part of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.
“Being considered a certified Work Ready community is definitely a marketing tool we use for communities when we talk to potential businesses,” Leep said. “It’s something we talk about with companies who contact our cabinet.”
The Work Ready Communities program was started about eight years ago under former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear. It was created to help address deficits in many of the state’s communities in the number of “work ready” employees — people who possessed the skills that companies eyeing the state as a potential site for location or expansion would desire.
Many Kentucky counties had abnormally high jobless rates when the program started.
Leep said that, right now, Kentucky still lags behind the national average. Nationwide unemployment states at just 3.7 percent.
In the state, the jobless rate is about 4.5 percent.
But it is closing the gap. Overall, the state unemployment rate has steadily dropped.
Currently, 67 percent of Kentucky counties have jobless rates below 5 percent, and 44 percent have jobless rates below 4 percent.
She said the program is helping to measurably reduce the number of Kentuckians who are out of work. It does so by setting benchmarks for counties that apply to gain the certification of “Work Ready.” Nearly every Kentucky County is either certified, or in the process of trying to become certified.
“It is a process … that’s the idea behind this,” Leep said.
Communities are required to meet certain benchmarks in areas like high school graduation rates, Internet availability, engagement of transition populations (like returning military veterans or released inmates), community commitment, etc.
Leep said Whitley and Knox County both have until next August to try to meet the benchmarks. If they cannot, they can file requests for three-year extensions to keep “Work Ready in-progress” status.
Bruce Carpenter, Executive Director of the Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said he is committed to trying to meet all the qualifications without the necessity of an extension.
Leep was asked a couple of questions, following her speech, about how communities go about the application process.
Following her presentation, new members of the chamber were presented with official membership plaques.