Between 2001 and 2021, coal mining in Kentucky declined faster than anywhere else in the US.
Those who worked in coal know the story all too well. Around 2014, despite years of boom-bust cycles in the mining industry, it was abundantly clear that our region’s mining activity was coming to a screeching halt.
Our #1 source of economic prosperity — mining jobs, mines, and coal production — fell by more than 78%.
Thousands of highly skilled, capable Eastern Kentucky residents aligned with mining and adjacent industries found themselves without any new opportunities for work.
eKAMI is a regional training institution that knows this problem all too well. Their founders, leadership, and staff were deeply affected by the collapse of coal.
But through taking action, they’re holding onto hope. eKAMI provides real-world solutions to Eastern Kentucky’s economic crisis. And they do it all with the utmost care and compassion for each individual they work with.
eKAMI’s mission is to reskill and upskill Eastern Kentucky’s workforce for the jobs of today. They leverage their industry relationships to align their programs with rapidly evolving technologies in advanced manufacturing industries.
eKAMI walks the talk, too. Its graduating classes have a 100% job placement rate. Employers are lined up out the door to talk to their students.
eKAMI thinks big, too. They want to see advanced manufacturing and robotics companies relocating to Eastern Kentucky to tap into our competent workforce. And they’re playing a pivotal role in KY PATH by helping prepare our residents to access opportunities presented by the agritech industry.
If you’re not familiar with eKAMI yet, you should be. Let’s take a deep dive into what they do, who they serve, and how they’re transforming our region into a competitive hub that’s putting Eastern Kentucky on the map.
It all started with Kathy Walker. She couldn’t bear to see Eastern Kentucky’s highly skilled workforce left behind.
Seeing the despair caused by the collapse of coal, she wanted to figure out what could be done. Kathy knew the skills her community’s workforce had developed were transferable and valuable to other disciplines.
Someone had to step in and create a pipeline diverting talent away from coal and into other industries.
CNC machining is all about working with your hands, problem-solving, and using your ingenuity — which is not all that unlike the careers associated with mining.
As Kathy started putting these puzzle pieces together and forming what would soon become eKAMI, EKCEP came in to provide essential funding for the next step.
To test the concept, Kathy partnered with EKCEP to send local trainees to a CNC program in Indianapolis. It was a great success, and these former coal miners started new career paths with companies like Lockheed Martin.
Next, Gene Haas and the Haas Foundation helped with the funding to make eKAMI what it is today. Thanks to their partnership, it’s completely free for trainees to receive advanced manufacturing, CNC, and robotics training.
eKAMI’s students work with the most cutting-edge CNC machines, advanced manufacturing robots, and programs. The program also prepares them for successful lives and includes training in personal finance, professionalism, real estate, car ownership, and other essential life skills.
eKAMI has a lot in store for our community, including their deep involvement with KY PATH. As agritech expands rapidly within Eastern Kentucky, it’s up to us to ensure residents can rise to the occasion.
eKAMI: A bridge between KY PATH and our regional workforce
The EDA selected KY PATH from 529 applicants as a first-round finalist for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. This grant program will help regional economies like ours recover from the pandemic and overcome decades of economic distress.
Kentucky leaders, including SOAR Innovation, worked together to develop KY PATH and ultimately position Eastern Kentucky as an international agritech hub.
But we don’t want to launch a new industry in the region — then rely on out-of-state talent to fill these roles. It’s up to us to source and train local talent so our residents can take advantage of the job opportunities coming our way. And that’s exactly where eKAMI comes in.
Since eKAMI is already our region’s leader in comprehensive robotics and advanced manufacturing training, they’re the ideal partner to help make this goal possible.
They’ll be launching a new agritech-oriented program focused on robotics that increases the speed, accuracy, and quality of agriculture task performance. eKAMI will help create this bridge to ensure KY PATH will be transformative for Eastern Kentucky residents seeking new career opportunities in agritech.
Supporting healthy transitions for the justice-involved population in Eastern Kentucky
The challenging economic circumstances in Eastern Kentucky also affect the justice-involved community.
One of the main issues facing Kentucky’s criminal justice population today is recidivism. Kentucky’s statewide recidivism rate was 41% in 2020, and parole violators currently represent 60% of new prison entries.
These figures are much too high. Reducing recidivism is good for the health of our communities and our economy. If we can facilitate effective career transitions for former inmates, we can improve recidivism outcomes, decrease incarceration costs, and lower Kentucky’s crime rates.
When former inmates get a well-paying job after their incarceration is over, they’re close to one-third less likely to get arrested for another crime.
eKAMI recently broke ground on its second training facility, and it’s attached to the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Center (EKCC) — the largest correctional facility in the state.
At its EKCC location, eKAMI will be training non-violent offenders for advanced manufacturing and robotics careers. And those who graduate from the program will be eligible for production jobs that pay the prevailing market wage.
Providing an innovative solution inclusive of all Kentuckians is integral to KY PATH. And this innovative program is the first of its kind in the US. By giving a hand up to the communities in search of new economic opportunities, KY PATH and eKAMI will be setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow.
Conclusion: Get involved to support a thriving workforce in Eastern Kentucky
Renewed local competitiveness will be a game changer for us — and should help attract new industries and residents that will continue bolstering and diversifying our regional economy.
eKAMI can connect Eastern Kentucky residents with their most promising career opportunities. Local leaders can drive strong outcomes for their constituents, friends, and neighbors by helping them become aware of eKAMI and its training programs.
The institute can be an ideal fit for many Eastern Kentuckians formerly employed by coal. It’s also seeking to partner with young students interested in trade-based careers here at home.
Now is the time for hope — and to get excited about the bright future ahead.
Learn more about SOAR Innovation’s role in KY PATH, the future of agritech in Eastern Kentucky, and how you can get involved to support our region’s most promising opportunities.