Ads Bid to Boost Image of Coal-Mining Jobs

Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy is trying to recruit a new generation of coal miners. The company's $3 million advertising campaign makes the point that miners help the nation keep the lights on.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Our business news begins with the glamorous side of coal mining.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Persuading people to become coal miners in the 21st century is a tough sell. One coal company has launched a $3 million campaign to improve the industry's image and show why it matters.

(Soundbite of a CONSOL Energy ad)

Unidentified Man: Wind, solar and all the other sources of electricity up there combined don't provide as much power as the coal we mine down here.

MONTAGNE: As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, the ads are designed to attract a new generation to work underground.

FRANK LANGFITT: The ad is running on TV stations in the Appalachian coalfields. It shows miners below providing electricity for everything from trains to street lamps above. It concludes with an American flag made of coal.

(Soundbite of a CONSOL Energy ad)

Unidentified Man: We're CONSOL Energy. And for than 140 years, we've been powering your life and the life of the nation.

LANGFITT: Thomas Hoffman is an executive with CONSOL, a Pittsburg-based coal company.

Mr. THOMAS HOFFMAN (Vice President of External Affairs, CONSOL Energy, Inc.): The campaign is really to say what these guys do is important, because without what they do, the lights wouldn't come on.

LANGFITT: CONSOL hopes that by stressing pride in coal mining, it can recruit more people as it faces heavy turnover.

Mr. HOFFMAN: We have a baby boom demographic problem. Over the next five to seven years, about 4,000 of our 7,200 employees are going to elect to retire.

LANGFITT: Hoffman says the jobs pay from $60,000 a year to 100,000 with overtime. That's good money, especially in the hollows of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. But polishing the industry's image won't be easy. Many young people refuse to go into mining. They worry about the dangers, or recall their fathers getting laid off when coal prices fell. Wes Addington is a mine safety advocate in Kentucky.

Mr. WES ADDINGTON (Mine Safety Advocate, Kentucky): The children of those miners, you know, now look and think, you know, it's not worth it. I'll find something else, even it's outside of Appalachia. It's really not worth the risk to me to do what my father and my grandfather did.

LANGFITT: The risks of mining were on display recently when a company shut down the Sago Mine in West Virginia. That's where a dozen men died in a disaster last year. The mine closed because warmer winter weather had driven down prices. Coal mining is actually much safer today than it was decades ago, but it's still one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

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