By Danny E. Davis
To my fellow eastern Kentuckians: Arguably the most critical issue impacting eastern Kentuckians is a lack of job opportunities.
Even though policymakers have tried for decades, there is no indication why it has been so difficult to recruit businesses to the region. Some hold the position that industries have no interest due to a lack of investment in human capital. (Ziliak 2014) To overcome this issue, state and county leaders could invest in improving leadership, education, and training skill sets. Until job growth occurs, the residents of eastern Kentucky will never overcome their present circumstances.
However, there may be an opportunity for an "immediate" economic and human capital investment boost, which would simultaneously increase the odds of recruiting outside businesses.
If Governor Steve Beshear would grant military veterans tax-free benefits for retiring to one of the 54 counties in Appalachian Kentucky, this initiative would kick start economies and improve poverty statistics across the region. The boon to the economies and human-capital investment could be seen relatively quickly. There are myriad benefits for supporting this proposal.
First, military veterans would bring a monthly tax-free retirement income to spend on the local economy. This would generate an improvement to local county economic statistics and raise median household income numbers. As income numbers rise, several counties could fall off of America's list of top 10 counties with the lowest annual median household incomes. Unfortunately, Kentucky has four counties on this top 10 list: Owsley, Clay, Knox, and my native home, McCreary County. (Joseph 2010) This initiative could improve that negative trend.
Second, retired veterans have a proven track record of starting their own small businesses since the federal government provides many incentives to encourage them. These entrepreneurs could generate jobs for local residents, which would further stimulate the regional and state economies.
HUMAN CAPITAL BOOST
Third, veterans would bring leadership from the premier Ivy League Leadership University in the world - the United States Military. An increased leadership presence would improve the citizens' options to elect better county leaders.
Finally, an increased veteran presence would eliminate one of the major obstacles to recruiting outside business industries - a lack of human capital investment in education and training. Military veterans would bring leadership, education, and training skill sets that outside industries seek. This could result in an incentive for industries to relocate to eastern Kentucky.
This effort to provide an "immediate" economic and human capital boost by attracting retired military veterans may be possible, but only if eastern Kentuckians engage their elected representatives and do their part to ensure a better future for themselves and their children.
My fellow eastern Kentuckians, the time to engage your state representatives, state senators, and the Governor is now. Let your representatives know you support an initiative to provide tax-free retirement benefits to military veterans who retire to counties in Appalachian Kentucky. You have a voice. Conditions will never improve until you engage, and let your voice be heard!
Danny E. Davis
(Native of McCreary County, Kentucky)