Lieutenant Gov. Jim Cawley kept a campaign promise and returned to Carbon County Thursday.

During the afternoon, he took a tour of the Kovatch KME plant in Nesquehoning, then visited downtown Jim Thorpe.

"You have a very, very special gem in this part of the state and I look forward to coming back here often," he said.

Last night, he spoke during the annual Presidents Day gathering of the Carbon County Republican Club held at the Nesquehoning Community Center.

At the Kovatch plant, he met with John Kovatch III, owner and president; Rick Reaman, chief financial officer; and Ronald Blisard, human services officer.

He was given a tour of the plant and saw first-hand how fire apparatus is made from empty frame to completed aerials and pumpers.

Cawley asked the Kovatch officials specifically what can be done at the state level to improve the business and economic climates.

He said, "Gov. (Tom) Corbett and I are very concerned about the financial condition of the commonwealth. We hope to empower the private sector and put Pennsylvanians back to work.

"We're out meeting with true job creators and asking what we can do," said Cawley.

He said that as an example of what businesses currently endure, the present corporate tax rate is 9.99 percent, which is "one of the highest or the highest in the nation."

Also on the tour of the KME plant were state Sen. David Argall, state Rep. Doyle Heffley, and Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko.

Argall pointed out that the Kovatch firm was started by the late John "Sonny" Kovatch and began as a small garage.

Today the firm employs 675 people at its Carbon County facility.

"And we're still hiring," interjected Blisard.

"This is truly an American success story," said the senator.

Kovatch told Cawley that despite tough economic times, and even though a government construction contract is expiring, the firm "is working 10-hour days and no layoffs." The employees who worked on the tank trucks under the government contract have been transferred to other areas of the plant.

Cawley asked Kovatch, "How do we make you more competitive? How do we make you grow?"

The company president said one thing the state can do is "put everything on the same page" with competitors.

Reaman pointed out that Kovatch recycles 76 percent of its waste.

He said one of the problem areas is that although the company is committed to environmental efforts, the emission standards for such things as the painting booth are far more severe in Pennsylvania than competitors in other states must endure.

Reaman also explained to Cawley that the company participates in a training program with the Carbon County Career and Technical Institute. He said some state funding is involved, but the method of utilizing the funds is "not the most efficient way to do it."

Sofranko said he is impressed that Cawley returned to Carbon County only a month after taking office.

Cawley had visited Carbon while campaigning for lieutenant governor last fall.

"He told me back when he was running for office that if he was elected, he'd be back in Carbon County," Sofranko said. "He kept his word."