“If you build it, they will come” is not very conventional wisdom. For Ray Kinsella in “Field ofDreams,” it sounded like lunacy at first.

But that wisdom is true, and for Eastern Kentucky, the pieces are coming together. Slowly.

Already, between the Haas eKentucky Advancted Manufacturing Institute and the American Metal Works facility downtown, humble Johnson County is home to some of the nation’s most advanced computer numerical control training and equipment. 

At this moment, trained, skilled CNC machinists are in high demand. Kathy Walker, who got eKAMI off the ground, said her first class of students were spoken for long before graduation day, and several businesses are lined up to get dibs on the next class. They represent not only stable work, but work that pays — one of the first eKAMI graduates who met with Rep. Hal Rogers during his visit to the area on Monday said he was hired to a new job at more than $28/hour to start.

For each eKAMI student he met, Rogers had one question: “Where are you from?” 

The answers were invariably our own, and our neighboring, Kentucky coal counties: Johnson, Floyd, Pike, Martin and others.

At this very moment, people are training for jobs that can supplant the waning coal industry and make Kentucky a leader in skilled 21st century labor. 

The only problem is, much like what happened last year with Interapt and the TechHire computer coding program, the number of jobs available across the country are bountiful ... but the number of jobs available right here in Paintsville? Very few.

This is, unfortunately, how it will be for the time being. We will lose a few graduates to the world, while we prove we can continually readapt our skilled, hard-working labor force — a skilled, hard-working, adaptable labor force that just happens to be up the road from some industrial parks with vacancy signs. 

Eventually, that industry will follow. Already, Braidy Industries has dedicated to Ashland and EnerBlü and SilverLiner to Pikeville. These are jobs close enough to home for Johnson County residents to commute. 

Give it time, and support, and more are sure to follow.

In the meantime, we have work to be done in bettering our infrastructure to become more attractive to big business. It can be frustrating to hear so much about the revamping of an all-four-lane Mountain Parkway, and the iWay, bringing fast, affordable fiber Internet, when there is what feels like little or no progress — but progress is being made. Slowly.

– The Paintsville Herald

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