In the words of Harry S. Truman, “America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Imagine those same simple words on a billboard on the road to rural America, or on a road to Eastern Kentucky which reads, “Welcome to Eastern Kentucky which was built on courage, on imagination and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
For anyone willing to take a moment to visit and understand the people of Eastern Kentucky, or for that matter, people of rural America, it would quickly become apparent that Eastern Kentucky, and the friendly, hardworking people of the mountains are a diamond in the rough, a diamond loaded with skills, talents and an incredible desire to contribute to the growth and success of Kentucky and America.
Sadly, for the most part, it seems that the only time politicians consider Eastern Kentucky is when they want to pat themselves on their backs as they announce the next new project to give away tax dollars to attract some so-called business to Eastern Kentucky. Unfortunately, while most of these businesses promise hundreds of high-paying jobs, most of these jobs, or businesses, never materialize, and the tax dollars spent to attract these businesses and jobs disappear like a cloud on a windy day.
The one thing that is predictable about all of these tax-funded businesses is that Kentucky politicians will always hold a press conference when they announce these tax giveaways, yet these same politicians will be nowhere to be found when these businesses quietly announce that the project has been abandoned.
One thing is certain; the very foundation of the success of America, the very foundation of the success of rural America and the very foundation of the success of Eastern Kentucky is the result of the thousands, no millions, of small businesses, which provide America’s economic prosperity.
Consider for a moment that in 2018 the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that there were more than 30 million small businesses in America. Consider for a moment that in 2018, those 30 million small businesses employed nearly 59 million Americans. Finally, consider for a moment that the start-up costs for a small business in America, in rural America, and in Eastern Kentucky, is just a fraction of the costs associated with the tax giveaways for businesses which for the most part will never create a single high paying job, or for that matter a business which will disappear into the sunset along with millions of Kentucky’s tax dollars.
So, at the risk of offending Kentucky’s politicians, maybe, just maybe, it is time for the people of Eastern Kentucky to take their future into their own hands. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to abandon the economic development programs controlled by the government. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to demand the end to the massive tax giveaways to businesses that make promises for high paying jobs, almost like the promises made by the Wizard of Oz, promises which will never be fulfilled, promises which never existed, promises which could never have been fulfilled in the first place.
Finding solutions for the economic prosperity of rural America and Eastern Kentucky will not be easy. And although solutions will not be easy, one thing is certain, continuing on the same path of massive tax giveaways will end at the same destination, a destination littered with the names of businesses, businesses which never created a single job. It is time to find another path; it is time to abandon the old for the new; it is time for new ideas, not more tax giveaways.
In the end, for anyone willing to take a moment to visit and understand the people of Eastern Kentucky, or for that matter rural America, there will be little doubt that there is an American spirit which burns deeply, a spirit which has long contributed to the economic prosperity of America. To borrow from the words of W.C. Fields, “If there’s a will, prosperity can’t be far behind.” In Eastern Kentucky, and in rural America, there is a will, and there is a certainty that prosperity can’t be far behind.
So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place where Eastern Kentucky’s friendly and hardworking people can come together and find solutions which will fuel the economic prosperity of the region; a place where Eastern Kentucky’s friendly and hardworking people can shout loudly that it is time to stop squandering our tax dollars on businesses which only promise, yet never deliver, a single high-paying job.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, and throughout the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Other of Mark’s columns and Liberty prints are available at, fivesmoothstonesky.com.