Kentucky forest industry asks for workforce help
July 9, 2021 | 7:41 am CDT
Kentucky logging scene

Kentucky Forest Products Association members are calling on Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to incentivize people receiving pandemic unemployment benefits to return to the workforce.

LOUISVILLE, Ky -- Facing pressure from Kentucky's forest industry and other business interests, Gov. Andy Beshear says he will reveal a return to work incentive plan to help stem the workforce crisis in the state.

More than 40 member companies from the Kentucky Forest Products Association (KFIA) drafted a letter to Beshear requesting his administration halt Kentucky’s participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC).  Citing critical workforce needs, the signors indicate their concerns about rising demand from their customers and not enough help to staff their businesses.
 
“I continue to hear concerns across the state from our members about their struggles to employ qualified applicants,” said Bob Bauer, Executive Director of KFIA.  “With a direct economic impact of $9.55 billion and employment approaching 60,000 Kentuckians, the forest products industry is a quiet, but robust group of companies that operate in virtually every county.  So many of these businesses are family-owned working in rural and distressed counties.  As their trade association and advocate in Frankfort, we hope the Governor will give this matter his full attention. We and others stand ready to work with his administration on a solution.”

However, the governor's plan likely will focus on more incentive bonuses to return to work rather than cutting existing pandemic relief payments from the federal government. “What we’re looking at is, bonuses upfront, or after a certain period of time, if you’re on pandemic unemployment (for) coming back into the workforce,” Beshear told WDRB News in an interview Friday. “We’ve seen some other states do it. We think that there’s some good things they’re doing, and some bad things they’re doing.”

But Kentucky forest industry officials are joining together to call for immediate action.
 
“The FPUC was created in March 2020 when we all were concerned about an economy in free fall,” said Michael Thornberry, author of the letter and Vice President of Powell Valley Millwork. “Like so many government assistance programs, cash payments are a one-size-fits-all approach that is now hindering what could be a remarkable economic recovery in the state."

"Our business remains strong with demand downstream for American-made hardwood products, but we do not have the workforce to produce," said Thornberry. "We should not have to compete with unemployment benefits to hire and retain employees.  I hope Governor Beshear will consider what nearly half the other states have done by incentivizing folks to return to the workforce rather than paying able-bodied individuals to remain at home.” 
 
The Kentucky Forest Industries Association represents the wood products industry, landowners and forestry interests in Kentucky. The Association promotes the economic welfare and interests of the wood products industry through a number of programs and work with regulatory agencies advocating for forestry in the legislative process at the state and national level.

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William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.