- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

PAINTSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and local officials have announced a training facility in eastern Kentucky to help out-of-work coal miners find jobs in advanced manufacturing.

The eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute in Paintsville plans to accept its first class in February. The 16-week program trains people to operate advanced computer numeric control machines. Bevin’s office said workers in the field average about $20 an hour and said there are at least 200 vacancies within commuting distance of Paintsville.

Kathy Walker, the institute’s director, said the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program will pay tuition for out-of-work coal miners to complete the program. Walker said the partnership has sent 17 people from eastern Kentucky to complete similar training at Vincennes University in Indiana that was designed to help veterans find work once they left the military.

“I thought well if it works for veterans, it will probably work for our miners,” Walker said.

Walker said she has received a $1.5 million grant from the Gene Haas Foundation. And the Kentucky Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement has given the group preliminary approval for a $2.5 million grant.

Employment has fallen by 20 percent across 27 eastern Kentucky counties over the last decade amid the decline of the once powerful coal industry. State officials say just over half of Kentucky’s working age population is actually working, ranked 47th in the country.

“We’re on the cusp of having more able bodied men and women who don’t go to work than who do. That’s a huge problem,” Bevin said. “We have got to save ourselves.”

Of the workers from eastern Kentucky who have completed the program, six have full time jobs, Walker said. They include 35-year-old Justin Cornett, who said in the year before he got into the training program he had been laid off from three jobs. He now commutes two-and-a-half hours one way to a job at Lockheed Martin.

“I’m just glad to have the work,” said Cornett, who is married with two children. “I think people don’t realize what kind of school that is. I mean, it’s going to change this place.”

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