“No man is an island” English poet John Donne wrote in 1623. Neither is any state – at least not in 2014.
With each company’s decision to expand or relocate to Tennessee to the south or Indiana to the north – two of Kentucky’s three neighboring states with right-to-work laws – Kentucky, which lacks such a labor policy, not only moves closer to “island” status, but actually is in danger of becoming a swamp surrounded by economic alligators gobbling up opportunities.
This is especially true since the Hoosier State in early 2012 became the nation’s 23rd state to pass a right-to-work law – a policy that simply allows employees who work at a business with union representation to choose not to join that union or pay its dues without losing their jobs.
Not only is such freedom of choice as American as baseball, apple pie and Kaitlyn Farrington’s snowboard halfpipe Olympic gold, but it also opens the door to real volumes of prosperity.
Kentuckians laboring in Louisville, the Bluegrass State’s largest city – can look out from the swamp, across the river into Indiana and witness such prosperity developing right before their very eyes. Meanwhile, their own politicians dither in Frankfort over whether state revenues could withstand a miserly reduction in the state’s top corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.9 percent.
Louisvillians soon will see 220 more Hoosiers with good jobs provided by Autoneum, a Swiss-based auto supplier, arriving at a 300,000 square-foot manufacturing facility near Jeffersonville, in what used to be an old Army ammunition plant built that now stands as the River Ridge Commerce Center.
Economic leaders in Louisville were until as recently as two weeks ago were putting together a financing package to draw Autoneum and its jobs to Bullitt County. In the end, however, the supplier chose the right-to-work state.
Autoneum’s decision makers apparently didn’t want to dodge alligators in the swamp in the form of labor bosses and their politician-enablers who snap, snap, snap at any possibility of bringing a right-to-work policy to this side of the Ohio River.
Between Feb. 1, 2012 – when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s right-to-work law, making it the first Rust Belt state to implement such a policy – and the end of that calendar year, more than 90 companies had expressed interest in expanding or relocating to Indiana.
And it didn’t even require Daniels to haul his entourage – at huge taxpayer expense – to the United Kingdom like Kentucky Gov. Beshear plans on doing for an entire week in May.
Beshear could work smarter rather than harder and get some great results – all at the same time – if he would spend some time pointing out to his big-government pals in the Kentucky House like Labor Committee chairman Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, how Michigan passed its own right-to-work law in December 2012.
“Even our fellow legislators in the state where the UAW was born – that highly industrialized, labor union-ingrained state – realize that absent right-to-work legislation, their manufacturing firms were heading south,” the governor could say with uncharacteristic accuracy and conviction.
It might take some time, but I do believe Kentuckians – like their Hoosier counterparts – could get used to jobs coming to Kentucky rather than leaving before they ever actually come when manufacturers discover that ours is a state without a right-to-work policy.
Indiana’s current right-to-work law is a tipping point for companies – as in tipping away from the swamp and into Hoosierland, where it has become the Midwest’s Promised Land flowing with bright opportunities for the future.
Passing such a law in Kentucky could part the waters and connect the “continents,” of which Donne writes that “every man is a piece … a part of the main.”
Every state, too.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.