What lures industry to Shelby County?

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Company managers site its location – of course – but also its skilled labor force and a commitment by government leaders to expanding infrastructure.

By Nathan L. McBroom

Shelby County’s manufacturing companies are riding a strong period of growth, some of them fueled by tax breaks and state incentives as they seek to invest in their facilities and hiring more workers.
And leaders certainly say they would like to see those programs continue and expand to assist in the building of their businesses.
But they also tout many of Shelby County’s other positives – such as good location, a skilled labor force and strong local infrastructure — as some of the major factors that make Shelby County a prime location to locate an industry.
Mark Baker, vice president of Katayama American Company in Shelbyville, said the location of his company’s facility provides easy and fast access to its customers and  distribution centers.
“Shelby County has provided us with a centralized location with our customer base in the automotive industry,” he said. “We are in easy driving distance to eighty-five percent of our customers – from Alabama to Michigan.”
Such a central location helps reduce expense for fuel and other transportation expenses, and it also cuts down on the time between the production and sale of the product, all of which leads to a stronger bottom line for local companies and savings for the consumers.
Another industry leader said his facility’s location in Shelby County allowed his company to have a marked advantage over its competitors west of the Rocky Mountains, and in this economy, businesses need every advantage.
Another key element of proximity is that many industries in Shelby are also are reasonably close to facilities that supply their raw materials. This, again, also helps keep transportation costs down and allows that savings to be pasted on to the customer.
Shawn Adelsberger, general manager of Martinrea Heavy Stamping, which manufactures automotive products, called his company’s location “superb for our business.”
Martinrea, which is expanding for a new contract with Ford, has produced parts for Ford production locations in Louisville and Detroit.
Skilled workers
Second to location, many industry leaders point to a skilled and dependable workforce in the community as a reason to establish an industry in Shelby County.
Ray Leathers, CEO of Roll Forming Corp in Shelbyville, Shelby County’s oldest manufacturer, said his company has benefited from the strong labor force in the community.
“Our region has a strong work ethic due to our agricultural heritage,” he said.
That work ethic has likely helped the community’s unemployment numbers stay consistently below the state and national averages – even during one of the most difficult economic downturn since the Great Depression.
And Leathers also said that industrial facilities have also benefited from the number of highly skilled labors in the community.
“We have a wealth of vocational and higher education institutions that support industry,” he said.
Erik Dunnigan, a commissioner with the Cabinet for Economic Development, echoed one that one of  Shelby County’s strongest selling points is its skilled workforce.
“Because of its location between two large labor markets, Louisville and Lexington, and strong support from the local vocational college system, companies can find the skilled workers that they need,” he said. “That’s one of the first things they [prospective industrial facilities] look for.”
Dunnigan said the state has made intentional investments in the vocational college program and industrial technology research during the past 10 years. He said these investments will be crucial for the labor market of the future.
Government relations
Katayama’s Baker said that along with support from the labor market, his company has enjoyed a good relationship with local government and civic authorities.
“The local leaders seem receptive to opinions of the industries in this area,” he said.
During the past 25 years the community has invested in the types of infrastructure that are needed to support large industrial facilities such as roads, sewers and water.
For instance, Freedom’s Way – the new Shelbyville Bypass – provides easy wide-road access between Interstate 64 and the Midland Industrial Park, home to Katayama and other companies.
Leathers said that was an investment that encouraged industrial development and has, in turn, been a benefit to the entire community.
“Shelby County is one of the most heavily industrialized counties surrounding Jefferson County. As a result, Shelby County has strong infrastructure to support industry,” he said.
Leathers said if you add all these factors together, “You have an excellent location for industry.”