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Reports take pulse of local industry

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By Walt Reichert

Two reports on the state of industry in Shelby County -- one released by local officials, the other by the state - show companies are largely happy to be doing business here, though employers have some concerns about the quality of the local workforce.

The Shelby County Industrial and Development Foundation and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce recently completed a survey of 41 of the county's 67 industries.

"In general, they were pretty pleased," said Shelby County Industrial and Development Foundation Executive Director Libby Adams. "They're happy with city and county services."

A just-released state Cabinet for Economic Development report on industry's expansion and investment in the county over a 10-year period, 1997-2007, showed local industries moving in or expanding current operations meant a total investment in the county of just over $265 million over the decade.

"It says Shelby County is a great place for companies to come to," said Bobby Hudson, president of the industrial foundation. "When you're recruiting someone it tells prospects it's a good place to do business."

Industry survey

It took the chamber of commerce and the industrial foundation about a year to finish its survey of local industry. The purpose of the survey was to "keep communication open with local companies and get a good understanding of their needs," said chamber of commerce Executive Director Shelley Goodwin.

Goodwin and Adams were able to survey 41 of the 67 local industries over the period. Smaller industries, with one or two employees, were the ones most likely to not participate, Goodwin said.

Industry officials were asked everything from how happy they were with city/county government to the list of materials they use in manufacturing to their hiring intentions.

Among the findings:

-- Companies had headquarters anywhere from Shelby County to Austria, Japan, Paris and Toronto. A third of the companies (34 percent) sell products overseas, and the same percentage buys products overseas.

-- The oldest firms have been here since 1925.

-- Products range from automotive parts to canned fuel to fiberglass windows and animal feed.

-- In the next two years, 85 percent anticipate offering new products or services.

-- Nearly all companies (95 percent) have stable or increasing sales.

The majority of company officials had good words to say about local government and government services. For example, 69 percent rated roads and bridges in the county either good or very good. Another 71 percent said they were happy with the county's water supply.

Employees

The companies surveyed reported 4,015 full-time, 76 part-time and 87 seasonal workers. Average wage is $12.21 per hour. Most workers (68 percent) are men; the majority (64 percent) are white; Hispanics account for 14 percent of industrial workers, African American 12 percent. The workers come from more than a dozen counties in Kentucky and some come from southern Indiana.

The two major concerns that surfaced in the survey involved the quality of the workforce, Adams and Goodwin said.

One concern was work ethic.

"Getting people to stay on the job, getting them to show up on time, that seems to be the number one issue," Goodwin said.

A majority of company officials (51 percent) said they had problems obtaining employees, and most (56 percent) said they presently have unfilled positions.

The other workforce concern company officials had was the lack of math and science skills employees possess. Hudson said he was baffled about how to change that.

"Maybe we need to go into the schools as early as eighth grade and talk to the kids about getting those skills or otherwise be stuck in a dead-end job," Hudson said. "Not all of those kids are going to go to college. Some of them need to go to the voc-ed schools and get a trade."

Adams and Goodwin said their organizations will start another industry survey in 2009.

"We want to keep the lines of communication open," Goodwin said. "We want to head off any potential problems before they happen."

State report

The state Cabinet for Economic Development's report showed new companies' or existing companies' expansion accounted for an increase of just over 1,800 jobs over the last decade and an investment in the county of more than $265 million.

That figure includes expansion of some companies several times over the decade. Alcan Packaging, for example, expanded five times over the period investing about $44 million. Roll Forming Corp. expanded three times and spent $8.2 million here, according to the report.

The state's numbers also include new companies moving in. Nifco, a Japanese auto parts maker, will start operations this summer with 150 workers. The company has invested more than $21 million in their land and building in the Hi Point Industrial Park.

While new jobs have been created, some local companies, especially those with ties to the automotive industry, have cut their workforce over the last decade. The former Budd plant, now Martinrea, and Johnson Controls, are among companies with fewer workers here than they had in the late 1990s.

Comparing the number of jobs in local industry today to the number of jobs 10 years ago is made difficult because the state has added new categories (managers and office staff, for example) to the industry classification while in 1997 the economic development cabinet did not count those jobs. More recent counts will show more industry jobs than counts from the 1990s.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the county had 4,734 manufacturing jobs in 1997. Adams said the industrial foundation's latest job count in the county's 67 industries totaled 5,773.

"The problem is, it changes day-to-day," Adams said.

Hudson said that while the county has done a good job attracting industry, "the competition out there is unbelievable."

"Other counties and cities are giving land away," Hudson said. "Some of them are building them buildings and offering to give land and buildings if companies stay for 10 years. And some of those are counties close to us."

Hudson said the foundation has not had to resort to giving land away to attract industry yet but has had to cut land prices.

"We can't sell the land and have money left over to buy new land," Hudson said. "If we can break even anymore, we're happy."

Business/industry seminars on tap

The Shelby County Industrial Foundation and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce plan a series of local business/industry seminars this year.

The first seminar, on Feb. 20, will cover strategic and business planning and import/export assistance. Speakers will include Michael Ashcraft from TKT & Associates consulting firm and Mark Peachey, director of international trade for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

The seminar will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Future seminars will be announced later. For information, call the chamber of commerce, 633-1636 or the industrial foundation, 633-5068.