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Building better businesses for Johnson County

An influx of new businesses is an exciting event in our area known for lack of opportunity, with the sale of the Mayo Plaza, there is a lot of potential for new jobs and new businesses within the county limits.
However, the emergence of these new businesses is just one way to help the economic growth of our community. To support them, we as a community also need to keep in mind that these new places need our support and encouragement and are not just a place for employment. We want them to become a part of our community rather than just a place to work.
With the decline of the coal industry in this area, the number of high-paying jobs has gone with it, and as a result, our community has suffered. These businesses are an important part of supplying much-needed jobs to the community. And while the high-paying coal jobs are gone, these jobs are a great start to help rebuild the community. Instead we need to build with the businesses as a better way forward.
The best way of doing this is through regulatory support through our local county and city governments, through community support getting the word out about these new businesses and helping get the right people hired to help grow their business, and through commercial support by using these new businesses to grow our own.
Another method for rebuilding the economy would be to embrace the industries from out-of-town, while also looking at other options like tourism to help rebuild the economy. While it is nice to see them agree that Johnson County is a great place to live and work, we, as a community should also take the initiate to continue building up our own local businesses as well.
Fran Jarrell, current president of the Paintsville/Johnson County Chamber of Commerce is doing a good job courting these businesses and encouraging new business owners. However, she needs all the help she can get and we need to be the ones doing it. Rather than complaining about having to go out of town on weekends to places like Ashland or Lexington, maybe we should be taking a harder look at what kinds of businesses we are seeking out while there and consider opening the doors to business doing the same thing here. Food, entertainment, shopping – these are all industries that can grow here with the proper encouragement.
So as these new businesses come into the area, and rumors start flying about what businesses are moving into town, let’s all take a look at what is drawing them here and sweetening the deal with our own special flavor of hometown hospitality, rather than complaining that the jobs do not pay what work in the mines did, or that one business cannot replace an industry-wide loss of jobs. We, as a community, should bear in mind that in order for our county to become more attractive to higher-paying jobs, we must first have an active economy in place, and these businesses represent the first step towards that end.
With respect to former President John. F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your businesses can do for you, but what you can do for your businesses.”

Darts and Laurels

Laurel: Kudos to the Brother of the Wheel, Eastern Kentucky Chapter and Cryptic Knights motorcycle clubs for their work collecting donations for underprivileged and special needs children throughout the area. These bikers show that although they may be tough as the leather they wear on the outside, inside, their hearts are tender as a marshmallow for kids.

Dart: While we are grateful for the efforts of our law enforcement community, we are sad to hear that according to Johnson County Sheriff Dwayne Price, that the numbers of arrests on drug charges are up this year. We have to ask ourselves, what else can be done to combat this epidemic?

Laurel: This year’s annual Van Lear Days celebration had beautiful weather, fantastic fun for the family and great company. All proceeds from the car show, cornhole tournament, and other events went toward the Van Lear Historical Society and Coal Miner’s Museum.

Dart: Shame on those responsible for a series of 12 vehicle break-ins at the Cross Creek subdivision in Staffordsville early Thursday morning. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Kentucky State Police are cooperating in the investigation to ensure whoever is responsible is brought to justice.

Laurel: Congratulations to Callie Austin, 11, of Prestonsburg, who spoke before a crowd at Porter Elementary in Hagerhill on Aug. 5, about her efforts starting her own business, East Kentucky Slime, with the goal of raising money to supply water filters to needy families in Africa. Kids like Callie are the ones making the world a better place.


The vicious cycle and how to stop it

A lack of rehabilitation and common incidence of incarceration is perpetuating a vicious cycle of drug addiction and poverty in our region, and while it’s difficult to determine the direction of the causal relationship (whether poverty causes drug abuse or vice-versa) between those two issues, it is impossible to deny that a relationship exists. Worse, many of the bigger issues facing us are pushed forward in part by these glaring, unaddressed problems. Local law enforcement does what it can to combat the issue, but the prison system and justice system perpetuate the issue by failing to rehabilitate inmates after arrest.
One study, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and carried out by members of the scientific community, including the Division of General Internal Medicine and Division of Substance Dependence at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, concluded that, “former inmates return to environments that strongly trigger relapse to drug use and put them at risk for overdose.”
The study found that among those environmental factors were poor social support; multiple diseases, including mental disorders, co-existing; unfailing exposure to drugs in their living environments and inadequate economic resources.
The impoverished seek an escape from the harsh realities of day-to-day life, and, not seeing a practical means to removing themselves from their poverty, many turn to drug use. After being arrested for drug use, possession, or trafficking, these individuals are stigmatized, incarcerated and given a felony criminal record that leads to further poverty by limiting these individual’s capacity to find gainful employment, especially in a region such as ours where their arrest was likely televised, written about and made common public knowledge.
One could conclude from these outcomes that poverty and drug abuse are closely related, and the pertinence of this issue is made even more painful and apparent if comparing a population density map for drug dependence and a similar map for poverty, both easily found by a quick Google search. Virtually the same areas of Appalachia are highlighted by both of these seemingly unrelated maps.
While local law enforcement strive every day to remove these dangerous drugs from the streets of our cities, and are effective in doing so, the problem lies in the correctional system. Once these individuals are institutionalized, branded felons, not given access to proper treatment and released without support from community and faith-based organizations and rehabilitation programs to follow up with, they are returned to the same conditions that bred their want to escape in the first place. On top of that, they’re in an even worse position to move forward in life.
A conversation from multiple fronts needs to be happening, and it’s not just based around what’s happening economically, criminally and medically, but how they’re connected. There are plenty of great groups out there fighting to solve all of these problems, but without a holistic approach to bettering the person, we’re just treating symptoms. I think we all know what treating symptoms without curing the problem leads to, and it rhymes with opioid epidemic.
The issue can be addressed by a few simple things happening and it starts with a summit of sorts for holistic solutions between law enforcement, drug addiction treatment leaders, economic leaders and social program leaders who focus on how to heal the hearts, minds and bodies of those impoverished, drug addicted, and stigmatized masses that make up our region. We won’t know how to fix these problems without first recognizing the fact that they are connected, and creating a united front to fight for Eastern Kentucky.

Darts and Laurels

Laurel: Congratulations to new Johnson County School District Superintendent Thom Cochran. As life-long part of the district as both a student and a teacher, Cochran has a good base from which to work.

Dart: The U.S. coal economy remains in a slump and Booth Energy announced Tuesday that they were laying off 217 people, including the Beech Fork Processing Center in Johnson County. This is why economic diversification is so necessary and so important in our community right now.

Laurel: Kudos to the American Legion Jr. Group, United in HOPE (Helping Other People Excel), for painting rocks to place on the grounds of the VA Hospital in Ashland, for veterans to find. Getting kids involved with visiting and supporting veterans is a great way to build our community.

Dart: The Paintsville Tourism Commission’s decision to change the time of its monthly meetings to 1 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month is concerning, especially in the face of ongoing questions about the commission’s actions. Meetings in the middle of a workday are rarely conducive to public comments, something to which the organization needs to be open right now.

Laurel: The Johnson County Jeep Club’s Alexander Rubado Memorial Poker Run in support of Kentucky State Police Trooper Island Summer Camp raised more than $4,000. The poker run brought in jeep enthusiast from four states and had 117 participants. These local events are doing a fantastic job bringing visitors into the county.


Patience is a virtue when kids go back to school

Thursday was the first day of school for Johnson County schools. A fleet of yellow buses once again lumbered up and down the streets transporting their precious cargo. They’re big, they’re slow and getting stuck behind a bus on their route can take precious time out of our day. Unfortunately, all too often, drivers get impatient and ignore the flashing lights and other warning signs to rush past buses regardless of where students may be at the moments, and that is when tragedy strikes.
According the 2014-2015 National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey, across the United States, there were four fatalities and 46 non-fatalities. Of those four fatalities, three fatalities were from children being struck by vehicles passing school buses illegally.
When drivers get behind the wheel, they take the responsibility of following the rules of the road, not just the ones that they feel like following. That means following the speed limit when we are in a hurry. That means stopping at a red light when you’re already 15 minutes late to work. And it means that when a bus stops in front of you and extends the sign and puts on the flashing yellow lights, that you stop, bite your tongue, and wait.
Kids get excited. They forget to look both ways before crossing the street - especially when they know they’re supposed to be protected by the reassuring bulk of a bright yellow bus. Kids move unpredictably, like changing their mind in the middle of the road to dash the other way to grab a forgotten item. It is not their job to watch out for random drivers who disobey the law.
Bus drivers have a tough job, and frankly do not get enough credit for what they do. These brave men and women herd kids to and from school twice a day in the best and worst of weather on narrow twisting roads. They are the ones keeping a sharp eye on their charges and ushering them off and on the bus while keeping an eye on traffic, and doing what they can to keep these students safe. For everything they do, they are still vulnerable because their attention is drawn in so many directions at the same time.
The job of protecting these students falls to each and every driver who gets behind the wheel. It is our job, as drivers, to follow each and every rule of the road, because when we don’t, we put everyone at risk. So, the next time you are confronted by a bus and feel the urge to pass, pause and ask yourself, is the risk really worth the life of a child?

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