Versailles, Ky. (Jan. 19, 2016) Sixteen business leaders from across the state are leading the charge for increased funding for postsecondary education, and specifically, for their local community colleges. They have been selected to lead their local colleges' Business Champions Council, and will serve on the statewide council as part of the KCTCS Fuel the Force campaign. The campaign is designed to bring awareness to the governor and legislators that local colleges need the state to reinvest in higher education.

Business Champions agree with Gov. Matt Bevin that education must be a priority and will ask legislators to support the Council on Postsecondary Education's (CPE) budget request that recently was submitted to the governor. In the request, CPE asks for half of the decrease in state appropriations since 2008 to be restored to the nine public postsecondary education institutions, which includes KCTCS.

Carter Hendricks, Mayor of Hopkinsville, representing Hopkinsville Community College; Rusty Justice, owner of Jigsaw Enterprises, LLC, representing Big Sandy Community and Technical College and Dennis Johnson, CEO of Hardin Memorial Hospital, representing Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, were chosen by the state council to lead the state Business Champions group. Other members include:

John Stewart
Ashland Community and Technical College

Jim Jacobus, Inter-County Electric Cooperative
Bluegrass Community and Technical College

Mary Grace Cassar, Bosch
Gateway Community and Technical College

Darrell Wayne Short, Blackhawk Mining, LLC
Mike Miller, Kentucky River Area Development District
Hazard Community and Technical College

Ben Johnston, Pittsburg Tank amp; Tower Group
Henderson Community College

Neville Blakemore, Greater Northern Building Products, LLC
Jefferson Community and Technical College

Jan Yonts, Mayor of Greenville
Madisonville Community College

Arthur E. Walker, III, The Walker Company
Maysville Community and Technical College

Mike Baker, Hancock Industrial Foundation
Owensboro Community and Technical College

Chuck Coldiron, Hyundai of Somerset
Somerset Community College

Lowell Guthrie, Trace Die Cast
Rick Starks, Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation
Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College

Blake Bowling, Bowling Law Office and Middlesboro City Council
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College

Ken Wheeler
West Kentucky Community and Technical College

"As the leader of a business in Eastern Kentucky I am deeply concerned about potential budget cuts in higher education, particularly our community colleges," Justice said. "We look to our community colleges, who are the largest providers of workforce training in the state, to provide the training our workers need to reach their full potential. An appropriate investment in higher education must be a priority for our legislators if they want Kentucky's economy to improve. It's no secret that states with the best trained workers are where the businesses locate or expand."

Even though the recession ended several years ago, Kentucky is one of only a handful of states that has not begun reinvesting in higher education. Additionally, Kentucky is one of only three states in the nationjoining Oklahoma and West Virginiathat has continued to cut per student funding for higher education each of the last two years.

"We believe when policy makers hear the stories we've heard about the impact funding cuts have had on the business climate throughout the Commonwealth, they will see how important it is to make education a priority and reinvest in postsecondary education," said KCTCS President Jay K. Box. "We're very appreciative that these leaders are actively participating in the legislative process and believe it will benefit their businesses and strengthen our partnerships."

Prior to and during the 2016 legislative session hundreds of Business Champions from around the state will be talking with legislators and others to explain how continued decreases in state funding are hurting local employers' ability to hire enough trained workers as well as the effect it is having on local economies. Business Champions also will take part in several events during the session to highlight their businesses and the training KCTCS is providing to fuel their workforce.

About Fuel the Force
Fuel the Force is a statewide campaign created to inform elected officials about the dire need of public postsecondary state appropriations for the 2016-2018 biennium. Business Champions from across the Commonwealth will share personal stories with legislators and the governor about the role local colleges play in the community, and how funding cuts have hurt local employers and local economies. To learn more about the Fuel the Force campaign and sign a petition of support, visit FueltheForceKY.com.

Photo/Cutline: KCTCS college Business Champions Council chairs recently met to select a statewide council chair. They selected three leaders: Carter Hendricks, mayor of Hopkinsville, Rusty Justice; of Jigsaw Enterprises and Dennis Johnson, CEO of Hardin Memorial Hospital.

Front Row, L-R
Ken Wheeler, Jan Yonts, Carter Hendricks, Rusty Justice, KCTCS President Jay K. Box, Mary Grace Cassar

Back Row, L-R
Rick Starks, Arthur E. Walker III, Chuck Coldiron, Mike Baker, Jim Jacobus, Darrell Wayne Short, Diane Logsdon, Lowell Guthrie, Blake Bowling, Mike Miller

Not pictured: John Stewart, Dennis Johnson, Neville Blakemore, Ben Johnston