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Foundation taking pulse on local industries

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By Walt Reichert

Despite a brutal first quarter for many industries, Pegasus Packaging experienced a 27 percent rise in business, said co-owner Steve Meador.

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Growth for the local outsourcing company came, Meador said, as industries looked for ways to save even small amounts of money in a tough economy.

“When things were good, they weren't looking so much at savings, but now they are trying to save everywhere they can,” Meador said. “So now they’re looking at what we can do for them.”

Meador has had to hire temporary workers to keep up with the increase.

The growth for Pegasus Packaging will help offset a slowdown in business for its sister company, Pegasus Industries, Meador said.

But not all local industries are growing, and, in fact, several have closed or announced closings.

To see what it can do to help, the Shelbyville Industrial and Development Foundation, along with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, is surveying local industry leaders in an attempt to assess their needs. Leaders of those organizations expect they'll find some different answers to survey questions than they got when they last took the pulse of local industry in 2006.

“In these tough economic times we are looking for feedback to see if local industry is experiencing any problems we can help alleviate,” said Libby Adams, executive director of the Shelbyville Industrial and Development Foundation. “We want to make sure we can keep them viable until we get through this.”

Industry leaders, such as Meador, now have the survey in their hands that inquires about everything from where they buy raw materials to what problems they have getting labor to what can be done to improve Shelby County's business climate.

Meador, who moved the company from Louisville to Shelbyville about eight years ago, said local government has generally been “very responsive” to his companies' needs, but he listed a couple of problems on the survey. He did acknowledge those issues may be beyond the scope of local government to solve.

One problem, he said, is that the company still cannot get high-speed Internet service and had to install a T1-line. Another is getting quality entry-level employees.

“It's just the way our society has evolved from the old agricultural economy where people grew up working hard and knowing how to work,” Meador said. “We sometimes get employees who stay two hours or four hours, walk out and never come back.”

Getting quality help was a common complaint in the 2006 survey. A majority (51 percent) of industries responding said they had a problem obtaining employees. Dependability, skill and education, turnover and work ethic were among the problems industry leaders cited.

Meador said the company continues to have problems finding quality help even though the unemployment rate in the county is nearly double what it was in 2006.

  Follow-up  

After the 2006 survey, officials did follow-up interviews with industry leaders before producing its report, “Existing Business Survey,” which came out in 2007. The foundation and chamber will do the same this time, Adams said.

“It's important that the industrial foundation and chamber build relationships, and we don't let them feel they have been forgotten,” Adams said.

Adams, chamber Executive Director Shelley Goodwin, industrial foundation President Bobby Hudson and industrial foundation board member Ann Morris will conduct the face-to-face interviews this time around.

Goodwin said she expects to hear leaders talk about more problems than they did three years ago.

“Businesses are looking at more opportunities for help, help from more places than they have in the past,” Goodwin said. “A lot of businesses tend to move along day-to-day. Now with things tougher they are reaching out for assistance and hopefully we can help them with that.”