Sunday, January 09, 2000

Ky. senator aims to lure Internet firms


Stine touts area's pool of workers

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — State Sen. Katie Stine hopes to use her chairmanship of a legislative committee dealing with economic development to bring more Internet- and technology-related jobs to Kentucky.

        She points to the distribution warehouse Internet retailer Amazon.com is building in Campbellsville, Ky., as an example of the kind of business the state needs to be more aggressive in attracting.

Prime location
        “Kentucky has what Internet companies are looking for,” said Mrs. Stine, a Fort Thomas Republican chairing the Senate's Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee.

        “Areas where there are a lot of workers because of high unemployment,” she said. “And a great distribution network with cargo haulers like UPS and DHL having hubs at the airports in Louisville and Northern Kentucky where goods can be shipped after they are ordered over the Internet.”

        Amazon.com has said it will employ 500 full-time workers at the center in Campbellsville, a south-central Kentucky town that was devastated last year by the closing of a Fruit of the Loom factory.

        Most workers will earn $7.50 per hour and possibly $8.30 per hour within a year and be eligible for stock options and benefits that include dependent care coverage, the company has said.

        “If these kinds of companies, whether they are in technology or related to the Internet like the Amazon.com warehouse, are looking for places to build and expand, we need to try and bring them here,” Mrs. Stine said.

        During the Tuesday opening of the Kentucky General Assembly session, Mrs. Stine gave a Senate floor speech on her plans to lure technology companies to Kentucky.

        That prompted a response from Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Gene Strong, who set up a meeting with Mrs. Stine for this Tuesday.

Additional incentives
        “We're going to sit down and talk about what the Cabinet is doing in this area, and talk about some of my ideas,” Mrs. Stine said. “I'd like to eventually also have Gene Strong or some of the people in his office come over and appear before the committee so we can talk about this and see if there is anything we can do legislatively to help make this happen.”

        Among her ideas is extending fiber optic lines into high unemployment areas so they will be more attractive to companies that rely on technology.

        The state also may be able to do more to attract Internet companies to Northern Kentucky, or at least do more to foster an environment where Internet start-ups are likely to get off the ground and flourish, she said.

Possibilities abound
        “I've talked to Cincinnati Bell, and they said this region definitely has the fiber optic capability to handle and serve technology and Inter net companies,” Mrs. Stine said. “Other places like Austin, Texas, have taken advantage of the Internet boom. So should we,” she said.

        Danny Fore, president of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp. in Fort Mitchell, said Mrs. Stine has the right idea when looking at bringing Internet-related distribution center jobs to Kentucky.

        “Those jobs are very labor-intensive, and we have a very tight labor situation in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati,” Mr. Fore said.

        “The jobs tend to gravitate toward areas where workers are more abundant, so in that context it's a very good idea to look at the state as a whole when going after those kinds of companies,” he said.

Well-wired area
        Northern Kentucky does have a “very sophisticated” telecommunications system suited for technology and Internet companies, Mr. Fore said.

        But the region is lacking in available “venture capital,” another name for the money often invested in Internet companies.

Intellectual capital
        Northern Kentucky also doesn't have the amount of “intellectual capital” in technology of other areas where the Internet economy is booming, places such as Austin, the Silicon Valley, Boston and North Carolina.

        “That's not to say that a group of well-trained individuals might not come together and form a very successful Internet venture,” Mr. Fore said.

        “The odds of that happening are just smaller here than they are in some of the other areas around the country,” he said.

       



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