Vivek Sarin | Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet

By Jack Brammer | Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT – Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has created a new position in the Cabinet for Economic Development that will pay $250,000 a year to improve the state’s workforce development strategies.

It is the second high-paying job the Bevin administration has created in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the governor agreed to pay Daniel S. Dumas, a senior vice president at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, $240,000 a year plus bonuses to overhaul Kentucky’s adoption and foster care systems.

Economic Development Secretary Terry R. Gill and the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board on Monday named Vivek Sarin as an executive officer in the cabinet. His salary will be the same as Gill’s.

The state already has an Education and Workforce Development Cabinet headed by Louisville businessman Hal Heiner.

“We are fortunate to recruit Vivek to join our team as we establish Kentucky to be America’s leader in engineering and manufacturing excellence,” Gill said Monday. “His broad business experience and his respected entrepreneurial accomplishments will help us address our workforce needs and create a business culture where emerging industries will thrive.”

New jobs promised under tax incentive deals the cabinet expects to ink with companies this year could surpass the nearly 16,200 announced in 2016, which was the most in a decade, according to the cabinet.

Those jobs announcements, however, haven’t translated into a booming state economy. Sluggish job growth of 1.2 percent in the first three months of the year helped contribute to declining income and sales tax revenue, causing state economists to predict a $113.2 million shortfall when fiscal year 2017 ends June 30.

Daniel Lowry, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, questioned how many of the jobs announced by Bevin will actually materialize, and said Sarin’s salary is “a slap in the face to all the hard-working state workers who have been told time and time again that money is too tight for raises or even a cost of living adjustment.”

State records show that Sarin, founder and president of Juvo Company, a professional services firm, contributed $1,000 to Bevin’s 2015 primary election campaign for governor and another $1,000 to Bevin’s general election campaign that year. Federal records show that Sarin contributed $2,600 to Bevin’s unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Mitch McConnell in the 2013 Republican primary.

For more than 20 years, Sarin led Shelby Industries LLC, a manufacturer of towing and trailer equipment based in Shelbyville. The company, which employed more than 100 at its peak, closed recently, citing increasing challenges from foreign competition.

Sarin’s economic development experience also includes five years as a board member of BEAM, the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, which was founded by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

“As a small business owner, I know the hurdles that companies face, especially in recruiting and retaining top-line talent while remaining competitive,” Sarin said Monday, the day he began his new job.

Bevin is chairman of the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board, which includes 13 public and private sector members who govern the Cabinet for Economic Development.

“The Partnership Board has been intent on attracting the best and brightest to lead Kentucky’s economic development team and to take immediate advantage of the state’s new pro-business environment and our recent successes,” said Luther Deaton, vice chairman of the board. “Vivek will be a tremendous addition to the team, and his broad expertise will be invaluable in helping meet the Kentucky business community’s growing need for a robust, well-trained workforce.”