We in eastern Kentucky all have dreams of seeing our communities become more stable by improving employment through bringing better paying jobs. In thinking about that I wondered how Kentucky and our federal government can accomplish that goal both in my House district of Clay, Laurel and Leslie, and the region as a whole.
Clay and Leslie counties have consistently ranked among the highest counties with unemployment in Kentucky, with the latest numbers showing an unemployment rate around 11 percent. It’s the high unemployment and high level of poverty that prompted the federal government to designate an eight-county area of southeastern Kentucky as a Promise Zone, making it the first and only rural area in the country to be designated as a Promise Zone.
According to their website, the goals of the Kentucky Promise Zone are simple: To create jobs, bring about economic development and entrepreneurship, improve access to technology, increase investment from private capital, combat the scourge of drug abuse, improve education and job training, provide better housing, and improve coordination among all entities in the zone. To reach those goals will require bold ideas in thinking outside the box, which is why I have some ideas on how we fully reach the promise our region can offer.
First I believe we should designate the eight-county area in the Kentucky Promise Zone as a tax-free zone for both businesses and workers. Those employed in the zone would take home all their pay and be exempted from paying any state or federal taxes. Start-up businesses in the area, including entrepreneurs would be given a 10-year tax free designation from paying state and federal employee taxes, and all state taxes.
We could also strive to improve the infrastructure in the Kentucky Promise Zone area, especially when it comes to our highway system. While I applaud the decision to expand the Mountain Parkway, we also need to upgrade the Hal Rogers Parkway to four lanes from Interstate 75 east through Clay and Leslie counties to Hazard. In fact, why not tie in the parkway once it has been widened to nearby interstates like I-26, which currently ends in Kingsport, Tenn. and connects to the main interstate corridor connecting Florida and larger cities like New York and Boston.
The bottom line is while the Kentucky Promise Zone may hold great potential all of us must be willing to push our ideas if we truly want to improve the quality of life now and for future generations in the 90th District and eastern Kentucky as a whole.
Representative Tim Couch (R-Hyden) serves the 90th House District, comprised of Clay, Laurel and Leslie counties. He is a small business owner and is Vice-Chair of the Natural Resources & Environment committee.