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After an election season in which both major political parties bashed free trade deals, the mayors of Kentucky’s two largest cities have renewed their initiative to attract foreign investment to — and exports from — the region. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Lexington and Louisville need to join forces to be relevant on the global stage. “We need to work together so we can present a unified force to the world that would allow us to better compete together for our whole state,” Fischer said during a news conference on Monday. Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray formed the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) in 2011 to help create more international opportunities for businesses in a 22 county area around the cities. On Monday, the mayors announced a plan to attract and retain companies that command higher wages, like those in the chemical, life science, software and IT industries, and create more workforce training programs like Code Louisville and Awesome Inc. in Lexington.

Jim Beam

Union workers at one of Kentucky’s biggest bourbon distillers are going on strike. The decision impacts Jim Beam employees who are members of the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The Kentucky Standard reports 201 workers voted to reject a contract offer by parent company Beam Suntory. Nineteen voted to accept the offer. Unless an agreement is reached soon, union workers will go on strike at midnight Friday. Workers say they plan to protest with picket signs at the Jim Beam facility in Bullitt County, with a possible protest at the facility in Nelson County.

City of Elizabethtown

Shane Howard loves Elizabethtown. He says living in Elizabethtown — just 45 miles south of Louisville — allows him to remain in close proximity to a bigger city without having to deal with city problems like rush hour traffic. He’s only 35 minutes away from downtown Louisville. Arguably, Howard says, for someone living in the East End, it can take them the same amount of time to get to downtown. But the cost of living in Elizabethtown is much cheaper. “The new restaurants popping up, new entertainment things, sports bars and those things popping up, it’s becoming more and more attractive,” he says. Howard is founder of Custom College Recruiting . The service matches high school student-athletes abroad with sports scholarship opportunities in the U.S. He founded the company in 2009 and received funding in 2014. Prior to that, he bootstrapped. But Howard said he knew if he was going to expand his business from something he was doing at home alone on his couch, he was going to need help.

BRADD

The Barren River Area Development District will no longer provide workforce services for the southern Kentucky region. The South Central Workforce Development Board voted Wednesday to terminate its contract with BRADD. The Development Board’s Chairman, Ron Sowell, said his group was primarily concerned about the amount of workforce development money that has been returned to the state because it wasn’t used by BRADD. The Bowling Green Daily News reports that number is estimated to be around $500,000.

Hopkinsville Community College, via Facebook

The Delta Regional Authority is investing more than $100,000 dollars in the Todd County Career Path Institute. The western Kentucky facility trains adults, college and high school students in welding, industrial maintenance and electrical networking. The money will go towards equipment for hands-on training. DRA chairman Chris Masingill said workforce training and education is critical for attracting business leaders. "The number one question that business leaders ask about when they look to do an expansion or a location is that they really look at the skill level of our workforce. And so we want to continue to invest into programs, into locations, into partners that are really trying to move the needle on that." The announcement Thursday was made on the same day Governor Matt Bevin's office awarded the institute with the 2016 Spirit of Kentucky Award recognizing regional partnership efforts. Masingill said that was a coincidence, but he’s glad to know the Governor feels the same way about the institute. “We work collaboratively. It takes the governor and us, me as the federal co-chair, working collaboratively and we review these projects. So this project would not have gotten funded without the support of Governor Bevin.”

Ohio County Economic Development Alliance

Ohio County is launching an innovative business center with the goal of bringing new jobs that have most of the commuting done online. Chase Vincent is executive director of the Ohio County Economic Development Alliance. He says the business incubator is a way to offset the expense of bricks-and-mortar for startups. “The concept of an incubator is that they come together and share experiences and advice and learn together. It dramatically increases their rate of success for becoming a long-standing business in the community.” Vincent points to the increasing popularity and viability of remote work as confirmation of the timeliness of the Ohio County project. He says all the pieces are in place for the incubator. “We were recently approved for $100,000 from the Ohio County Fiscal Court to purchase property in Hartford to be used as an incubator, training center and co-work space.”

GE Lighting

General Electric Lighting has announced it will close two plants in Lexington and Somerset by August 2017. WKYT-TV reports that the company announced the closures of Lexington Lamp Plant and Somerset Glass Plant would affect over 200 people. The Lexington plant makes traditional, non-LED lighting products and employs 139 people. The Somerset plant makes halogen lamps and employs 71 people. GE says in a statement that consumer demand for traditional lighting is at an all-time low. As a result, the company says it is operating at 15 percent capacity. GE says the local union representing the workers has 60 days to ask for a different plan.

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Mark Muro is having a conversation with someone in a bar. The person’s in their late twenties and is having trouble finding work. Maybe they have a high school diploma. Mark’s advice? Enroll in the closest community college you can. Fast. Auto manufacturing and digital services are some of the industries contributing to Kentucky’s economic growth. And you don’t need a Master’s or PhD to get a job in these areas. “STEM workers are crucial to regional prosperity and advanced industry success but they don’t all need to have to have college degrees,” says Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program. Muro did a study tracking the growth of advanced industries. Blue-collar STEM jobs fall under these industries, which employ more than 170,000 people in Kentucky. The average salary in an advanced industry is just over $65,000 in the commonwealth. That compares with almost $42,000 for all other industries.

Creative Commons

Kentucky’s export totals are on the rise. Kentucky exported nearly $7 billion in goods and services during the first quarter of the year. That’s a 1.2 percent increase over the same time period last year. Many Kentuckians would likely be surprised at the state’s number one export. It’s not bourbon or automotive parts. Instead, it’s aerospace products. Kentucky exported more than $2.6 billion in aerospace parts between January and March. That’s an increase of nearly 23 percent over last year’s first quarter. The state’s top five international trading partners are Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Brazil.

Rick Howlett, WFPL News

General Electric’s Louisville-based appliance division has a new owner. GE Appliances is now part of the China-based Haier Company. The multibillion-dollar sale was finalized on Monday. About 6,000 people work at Louisville’s Appliance Park, which was constructed by GE more than 60 years ago. The division will now be called “GE Appliances, a Haier Company.” Chip Blankenship will continue as president and CEO. He said employees should not expect any major shakeups under the new owner. “Really...

Ford Motor Company

There’s about 30 lbs. of polyurethane foam in the average vehicle. It’s in everything from headrests to seats and instrument panels. And usually, a key ingredient in that foam is petroleum. But Ford Motor Company is experimenting with swapping out the petroleum for something that’s abundant in today’s environment: carbon dioxide. “We conserve petroleum, we better the atmosphere and we make a very suitable material to use out of carbon dioxide,” saidDebbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader of sustainability. Carbon dioxide is, of course, naturally in the atmosphere. But it’s also emitted from burning fossil fuels, and climate scientists have linked the earth’s quickly rising CO2 levels with climate change. Ford’s new foam relies on a partnership with a company called Novomer that harvests waste carbon dioxide from sources like fossil fuel plants. Carbon capture technology hasn’t been proven to be economical on a large scale thus far.

Sam Owens/Getty Images via NPR

All over eastern Kentucky, you see cars and pickup trucks with black license plates proclaiming the owner is a “friend of coal.” Even though the license plates are all over, it’s getting harder to find actual coal miners here: Fewer than 6,000 remain in the state, where the coal industry is shrinking fast. More than 10,000 coal workers have been laid off since 2008. Many have had to leave the area to find work, but a few have found employment in other — and sometime unexpected — fields, as businesses are innovating to use former coal workers in new ways. Rusty Justice’s company is one of these. “The realization I had was that the coal miner, although we think of him as a person who gets dirty and works with his hands, really coal mines today are very sophisticated, and they use a lot of technology, a lot of robotics,” says Justice, who has worked in the coal industry all his life.

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Negotiators for United Parcel Service and the Independent Pilots Association will resume talks later this month in hopes reaching a contract agreement. The latest round of federally mediated negotiations ended last week in Washington. UPS pilots have been working under the terms of their previous contract for five years. The IPA, which represents some 2,500 pilots, has been preparing for the possibility of a strike. Earlier this month, the union set up a strike operation center at its Louisville headquarters, a move dismissed by UPS as a publicity stunt. For a strike to be called, the mediator would have to declare an impasse and release the two sides from talks. That would be followed by a 30-day cooling off period. Union president Bob Travis said the IPA and UPS have been called back to Washington by the National Mediation Board for what he called “two consecutive weeks of intensive negotiations” starting the week of May 16. Union officials said some of the remaining sticking points involve flight schedules and crew fatigue. Both sides say there was some progress made in the most recent round of talks.

City of Owensboro

A new report shows the number of people working—and looking for work—in Daviess County dropped by over 1,319 people between 2014 and 2015. The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet says there were 807 fewer people with jobs in Daviess County last year. However, the county also saw 512 fewer unemployed people. The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reports some local officials are worried about the declining number of people in the workforce. Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation President Madison Silvert told the paper that the area has done a good job of attracting retirees. He says that’s one reason why Daviess County’s population has increased at the same time the number of workers has decreased. Silvert says the size and quality of a community’s workforce is the chief concern of companiesthat are considering expansion.

Kentucky's only local soft drink is now available in a larger part of the state. Ale-8-One, produced in Winchester since 1926, is doubling its service area, to include Elizabethtown, Bowling Green and Owensboro. President and COO Ellen McGeeney says the expansion goes along with the homemade, handcrafted explosion in the beverage industry. McGeeney says people should start seeing Ale-8-One in the new areas within two weeks.

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