Taxpayer investment in eastern Kentucky aluminum mill decried as 'cronyism'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  A former top official in Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has been hired as a senior executive with Braidy Industries, the company that plans to build a $1.3 billion aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County with the help of a $15 million investment from state taxpayers.

Braidy Industries announced Nathan Haney’s hiring as senior vice president of government relations, along with the appointment of nine of other top executives, in a press release on Tuesday.

Haney, 34, joined Braidy Industries about five months after leaving the Bevin administration, where he was a deputy secretary of Bevin’s executive cabinet, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Haney was hired in May – the same month the state used $15 million of borrowed public money to buy stock in the company.

But Haney said he had no role in negotiating the state investment in Braidy Industries and wasn’t even aware of it before the investment became public knowledge. He said there is no connection between the state’s support of the company and his hiring.

“I had nothing do with the investment by Kentucky,” Haney said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I didn’t even know we (the state) could do that.”

A spokeswoman for Bevin recoiled at the suggestion of any link between Haney's hiring and the investment in the plant, calling it "yet another example of partisan hackery by the same weak members of Kentucky's media."

"Nate Haney left the administration months before Gov. Bevin even met anyone from Braidy Industries," Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said in an emailed statement. "The Governor worked hard to land this $1.3 billion investment and shoddy reporting such as this dishonest drivel from Chris Ott(s) at WDRB is an insult to eastern Kentuckians, journalism as a profession and all residents of the Commonwealth who are actually rooting for a better Kentucky."

The investment, an unusual economic development incentive, made state taxpayers either the biggest or second-biggest shareholder of Braidy Industries alongside side founder and CEO Craig Bouchard, as WDRB reported in June. State documents show Kentucky owns at least 20 percent of the company.

While most everyone applauds the company’s plan to bring 550 well-paying jobs to eastern Kentucky, some free-market advocates have criticized the taxpayer funding of the company as form of government-industry cronyism.

Haney said he met Bouchard through a mutual acquaintance, Charles Price, in February, about two months after he had left the Bevin administration to become a state government lobbyist with McCarthy Strategic Solutions.

Haney, who has graduate degrees in law and business, said he is a particularly good fit for the position because of his roots in eastern Kentucky, where Braidy Industries hopes to establish an enduring presence.

The company plans to build the mill by 2020 in South Shore, and it has established a corporate office nearby in Ashland.

“I am a Kentucky boy – born and raised – and I think Craig Bouchard knew that he needed someone like me to be sort of a face and a relationship builder in Kentucky,” said Haney, a native of Paintsville.    

Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank in Bowling Green, said Haney would be “a great addition to anyone’s team,” but the fact that his hiring coincided with the state’s investment in the company “would certainly have to be considered suspect.”

“It would be good for the administration to consider the perception -- as well as the reality -- of such personnel movements,” Waters said. “We do not question Mr. Haney’s abilities or qualifications, but it’s important for citizens to have full confidence that all cronyism has been avoided.”

Waters added that his group remains very supportive of the aluminum mill and sees it a direct result of the state’s new “right to work” law prohibiting mandatory union support in businesses with organized labor.

“This is a great project; it does not need to be propped up by Frankfort,” he said.

Braidy Industries’ other executive hires include a retired Air Force general and veterans of the manufacturing and metals industries.

Here is the full list, with biographies provided by the company:

  • (Ret.) Brigadier General Blaine Holt, a 30-year veteran of the United States Air Force, becomes the Executive Vice President of Operations. General Holt has extensive logistics experience, including a Bronze Star for having orchestrated combat logistics operations under conditions of socio-political strife as Commander of the US Air Force base in the Kyrgyz Republic. He also earned the designation of being "the #1 Strategist and Innovator" by General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and the highest-ranking U.S. military official at NATO. General Holt comes to Braidy Industries following his tenure as President of Million Air, the World's #1 private aviation service provider.
  • Thomas Modrowski becomes Executive Vice President of Construction and Facilities. Having spent over 38 years in the metals industry, Mr. Modrowski has significant executive management experience in bringing exposed-grade metal sheet capacity to market.  Mr. Modrowski was nominated to serve a senior role on the team that directed the design, installation, setup and subsequent management of a producer of nearly 900k tons annually of exposed coated metal sheet product. He also spearheaded the re-opening of the Electric Coating Technologies processing facility that was later acquired by Esmark.  He joins Braidy Industries following his previous role as CEO of Advanced Alloy Processing, LLC, a stainless steel and aluminum processing and distribution company.
  • Alan Blankshain becomes Executive Vice President of Engineering. Mr. Blankshain spent 24 years in various senior operational and management positions in metals fabrication, most recently serving as President and CEO of Midland Metal Fabrication and Stamping. Mr. Blankshain holds a Mechanical Engineering Degree from Duke University and MBA from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business.
  • Barrington Owens assumes the role of Executive Vice President of Manufacturing. Mr. Owens is a 25-year veteran of Alcoa, where he held many management positions, eventually becoming the President of the Distribution and Industrial Products section of Engineered Products, a $1 Billion annual business unit. Following his tenure at Alcoa, Mr. Owens joined Caterpillar, Inc., most recently serving as their Director of Innovation Incubator Operations. Mr. Owens serves on the Board of Visitors of the University of Tennessee School of Artists and Sciences and is a graduate of Columbia University's Senior Executive Program.
  • Stephen Miller assumes the role of Chief Procurement Officer.  Mr. Miller is a seasoned procurement executive, having previously served as Vice President and General Manager for publicly traded Wabash National Corporation, a leading manufacturer of aluminum-sided trailers. Mr. Miller also created and led IPC, his second industrial purchasing consortium, which grew to annual purchasing power of over $3 billion and was twice named amongst the Top 50 "Pros to Know" in purchasing.
  • Jaunique Sealey assumes the role of Senior Vice President of Business Development, joining following her previous role as CEO of a subsidiary of publicly-traded Real Industry, Inc., the parent company of Real Alloy, the world's largest independent purveyor of recycled aluminum.  Ms. Sealey is responsible for business strategy, marketing, investor relations and strategic communications.  She is a recognized brand development and positioning expert, and is the author of several books. Ms. Sealey holds a B.S.E. in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
  • Nathan Haney assumes the role of Senior Vice President of Government Relations, having been previously a Deputy Secretary of the Governor's Cabinet for Kentucky. As Deputy Secretary, Mr. Haney spearheaded two of the Governor's flagship initiatives including the Red-Tape Reduction initiative, to national acclaim and recognition.  He joins Braidy Industries from the high-powered government relations firm McCarthy Strategy Solutions, where he was a firm principal focused on business development, executive and legislative branch consulting.
  • (Ret.) Colonel Curtis Carson becomes Senior Vice President, Head of Human Resources. Colonel Carson has over 29 years of experience within the United States Army, with demonstrated expertise in training, training design and strategic planning.  He previously served as Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of the Joint Multinational Training Command in Germany and held a senior role within the United States military delegation to NATO Headquarters.  Colonel Carson holds a Masters of Arts degree in Human Resources Development.
  • Ben Markham assumes the role of Managing Director, leading the sales force for aluminum sheet in the metals service center and trailer markets.  Mr. Markham has over 30 years of senior leadership experience working for leading industrial manufacturing companies. Over the last 15 years, he has served in senior-level commercial positions that serviced the metals industry in providing surface critical products, concentrating on the transportation market.
  • Johanne Medina becomes Financial Controller and HQ Facilities Manager.
  • Karlo Vartan becomes Director of Information Technology and Cyber Security.
  • Senior Executive Assistant to Mr. Bouchard, Julie Kavanaugh, also serves as Chief of Staff Administration and oversees the company's needs for administrative support and training.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822,, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and