Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin

During Gov. Matt Bevin’s State of the Commonwealth address last week, he praised the Kentucky General Assembly’s recent passage of a so-called “right to work” bill, claiming the ambassador of Sweden recently confided to him that Volvo would have chosen to locate a new plant in Kentucky if the state had such a law at the time.

But according to the spokeswoman for the Embassy of Sweden, Ambassador Björn Lyrvall made no such claim to Bevin. Additionally, Volvo Car USA denied that a right-to-work bill was ever a requirement for where the company would choose to locate.

In his address last Thursday, Bevin praised legislators for passing the right-to-work bill, which bans workplaces from making union membership a condition of employment and allows workers to decline paying union dues while still receiving the benefits of contracts negotiated by that union. Kentucky was the last state in the South to pass such a law, which Bevin said will attract large employers who had been reluctant to consider locating in Kentucky.

The governor attempted to highlight this point by recounting a recent conversation with the Swedish ambassador, claiming he told Bevin that Volvo would have located a plant in Kentucky if it had such a law.

“I sat next to the ambassador from Sweden a couple of weeks ago, who told me Volvo wanted to be here, Volvo could have been here, would have been here, had we been serious about passing right-to-work,” said Bevin. “Had we shown any interest in them as a company with any real significance they would have been here. Those are the kind of companies that want to see this.”

In 2015, Volvo announced that its first car plant in the United States — employing 2,000 workers — would be located in South Carolina, which has long had a right-to-work law. South Carolina also offered Volvo over $200 million in tax incentives to locate in the state. Media reports speculating about contenders for the Volvo plant at the time also mentioned Kentucky and Georgia — which has a right to work law — though Volvo has never stated that right-to-work was a factor in its decision.

Responding to a tweet about Bevin’s Volvo comments in his address last week, the official Twitter account of Volvo Car USA replied that “We have never confirmed which locations we considered, but a ‘right to work’ bill was not a requirement.”

Spokeswoman Laura Venezia told IL over email Friday that the company “never released what the factors were that went into the selection, or what other states were considered.”

IL sent an email to the Swedish embassy asking if Ambassador Lyrvall could confirm or deny the details of the conversation recounted by Bevin, with spokeswoman Monica Enqvist replying that the ambassador did not make such a claim.

“We believe that there must be some kind of misunderstanding with regard to what the Ambassador said during his talk with Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky,” wrote Enqvist. “Sweden is one of the largest investing countries in the US and Swedish companies create jobs in all fifty states. In the State of Kentucky more than five thousand jobs derive from Swedish investments and export.”

Enqvist added that their embassy “does not have any inside information about how investing companies make their decisions.”

IL sent Bevin’s spokeswoman Amanda Stamper an email asking if the governor misspoke when recounting his conversation with the ambassador, or if he stands by his statements. Stamper has not yet replied.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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