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Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Kentucky had a slight increase in exports to countries around the world in 2015, compared to the previous year. The Bluegrass State stands out nationally because even though exports increased by less than one percent, most states decreased their exports last year. That’s according to WISERTrade.org, a Massachusetts company that collects international trade data. 

Aerospace products are Kentucky’s number one export, by dollar value.

Jack Mazurak is a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. He says $8.7 billion in aerospace products and parts were exported from a wide range of Kentucky companies.

“Small businesses that are engaged in extruding a plastic part that may be used on one particular plane, all the way up to multinational names, GE Aviation, GE Aircraft Engine Division. Boneal is another big name. Lockheed Martin has a facility here,” says Mazurak.

Motor vehicles were the state’s second most exported product, followed by pharmaceuticals. Exports from Kentucky last year totaled $27.6 billion dollars.

Canada held its place as Kentucky’s main destination for exports last year. America’s northern neighbor bought $7.2 billion in products and services from the Bluegrass State. Rounding out the top five destinations for Kentucky products are the United Kingdom, Mexico, China and France.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce says citizens need to understand of  scope of the state’s public pension crisis. 

Governor Matt Bevin's proposed budget makes a down payment on what could be a 20 to 30-year effort. 

The $36 billion shortfall in Kentucky’s public pension plans is more than three-and-a-half times the total general fund tax money the state collected last year. 

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson says it will take decades to fix the problem after years of neglect, but the effort must start in the current legislative session.  He adds that the drain on state coffers poses a threat to essential services.

WKU Public Radio

The leader of the Kentucky AFL-CIO says labor groups are ready to fight future efforts to pass what supporters call right-to-work laws.

Union groups scored a major legal victory Wednesday when U.S. District Judge David Hale ruled that county governments can’t enact the rules on a local level.

Right-to-work laws prohibit mandatory union membership as a condition of employment.

Twelve Kentucky counties enacted local right-to-work ordinances last year after efforts to pass a statewide version failed in the legislature. Hardin County was one of the dozen that did so, and labor unions filed a suit against the county challenging the legality of the move.

Kentucky AFL-CIO executive director Bill Londrigan says unions know the legal battle isn’t over, despite this week’s court victory.

“We fully expect the defendants to file an appeal on this case, and with the strong, strong ruling by the U.S. District Judge David Hale, we feel that they’re going to be unsuccessful at that level, as well,” Londrigan said.

Supporters of right-to-work say the laws make states more attractive to businesses. This week’s ruling against county right-to-work efforts could mean supporters redouble their efforts to get a statewide law passed.

NPR: 50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map

Londrigan says unions are ready for the challenge.

A federal judge says local governments in Kentucky cannot ban mandatory labor union membership as a condition of employment.

In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge David Hale said only state governments have the authority to opt out of a federal law that allows closed shop or agency shop agreements, which require employees to join a labor union or pay union dues regardless if they are a union member.

Kentucky Republicans have tried to ban such agreements, arguing they act as a disincentive for companies to come to the state and hire workers. Tired of waiting, 12 Kentucky counties passed their own bans. Labor unions sued, challenging Hardin County's ban in federal court.

Hardin County officials could choose to appeal the ruling.

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to have local governments pass these laws.

Flickr/Creative Commons/ U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Thousands of Kentucky residents have two months to look for work or job training to keep their food stamp benefits.  Anya Weber of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services says food stamp recipients have until April 1 to comply with the new requirements.  

"Able-bodied adults without dependents will need to meet a 20-hour work or training requirement," says Weber. "This is going to affect approximately 17,500 able-bodied adults in eight counties."

Those counties are Bullitt, Daviess, Fayette, Hardin, Henderson, Jefferson, McCracken and Warren.

New federal rules impacting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, went into effect Jan. 1.  Recipients affected by the changes were given a three-month grace period to find work or job training.

Weber said the changes will affect nearly 900 people in Warren County, more than 700 people in Hardin County and more than 600 people in Daviess County.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Clayton Sieg

The chief executive of Aetna is optimistic about the future of the company and Louisville following the planned sale of Humana.

When it was announced last year, Aetna’s plan to buy Louisville-based Humana launched immediate concerns abut the future of about 12,000 jobs in the city. The Connecticut-based Aetna has said it plans to base its Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE businesses in Louisville.

Far from job loss, Aetna’s plan has led to speculation that the job stock in the city could grow.

Humana CEO Bruce Broussard and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini spoke on Tuesday night about the future of the merged company and Louisville during the Greater Louisville Inc. annual meeting. Nearly 1,000 business leaders attended the meeting.

Broussard said the merged company and Louisville have a “very bright future.”

Rhonda J. Miller

The owner of the new Dueling Grounds Distillery in Franklin says he isn’t aiming to be one of the big guys on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.   

Marc Dottore will make smaller batches of bourbon in the craft distillery set to open in April.

"This kind of happened out of doing some Bourbon Trail tours and seeing how it was made at a large scale, and then finding out there was this whole world of smaller people in the 200 to 300 gallon capacity making really good, hand-crafted quality spirits," says Dottore. "I thought that’s something I could aspire to. I like that.”

Dottore says his distillery near I-65 is well-positioned to be part of the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail. That route currently includes Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green, MB Roland Distillery in Christian County, and Wilderness Trail Distillery in Boyle County.

GM Plans Another Expansion at Corvette Plant in Kentucky

Dec 9, 2015
Photo by Joe Imel for Chevrolet

General Motors says it will spend $44 million to increase engine-building capacity at the Kentucky plant that makes Corvette sports cars.

The automaker said Wednesday that it will add 36 jobs as part of the investment to expand capacity in the Performance Build Center at the Bowling Green Assembly plant. It says construction and tool rearrangement is scheduled to start next month.

GM says the increased capacity is fueled by the success of the Corvette Z06, which accounts for nearly one-third of all Corvettes produced at the plant in south-central Kentucky.

Plant manager Kai Spande says GM has committed $483 million to the Bowling Green plant this year.

In May, the company said it was spending $439 million for a new paint shop and facility upgrades.

Sometime next year, a new bourbon distillery will open at the site of the former Old Taylor Distillery near Frankfort. Leading the project is master distiller Marianne Barnes, the first woman to hold the title in modern times.

The forthcoming distillery is backed by Will Arvin and Wesley Murry, who asked Barnes to partner with them. The distillery would breathe new life into an abandoned 130-acre property that was once a grand showplace for historic distiller Col. Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr.

Century Aluminum Announces Lay Offs at Sebree Smelter

Nov 3, 2015

Century Aluminum has announced it will lay off nearly 30 percent of its workforce at its Sebree smelter by year's end.

According to the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, the company says it'll lay off 150 people at the plant by Dec. 31 and curtail one of its three pot lines. Century currently has about 525 employees at the Sebree smelter.

In a statement, Century's president and CEO Michael Bless said the company is struggling to compete with the low prices of subsidized Chinese aluminum, calling the practice "unfair."

Last month, the company laid off approximately 320 people at its Hawesville smelter.

The Hawesville smelter is down to 250 employees and has two pot lines operating.

On Thursday, Century reported a net loss of $56.1 million for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

A Warren County manufacturing plant is launching a major expansion that will add 450 jobs. 

Bowling Green Metalforming, located in the Kentucky Transpark, is investing $261 million over the next four years to better serve the automotive industry.   It’s one of the largest corporate expansions that south central Kentucky has seen in the last decade. 

Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said the company has been a great corporate neighbor.

Over a thousand people working there now means there's that many families have the wherewithal to take care of themselves in providing stable employment and a good location for them to work," Wilkerson told WKU Public Radio.

The expansion will include equipment purchases and a 260,000-square-foot-addition to the company’s current facility.  It’s the sixth expansion for Bowling Green Metalforming since breaking ground 11 years ago.

Lisa Autry

A German steel processor broke ground today\yesterday on a new manufacturing plant at the Kentucky Transpark in Bowling Green. 

Bilstein is Europe’s largest supplier of cold-rolled steel products.  The company will build a 250,000-square-foot facility to better serve its automotive industry customers in North America.  Company officials call it their first major investment outside Europe. 

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear says Bowling Green was the ideal location.

"It's located here on the interstate of I-65.  It's got a wonderful university in Western Kentucky University," noted Beshear.  "Kentucky is not only the center of manufacturing, it's the center of a pipeline all the way from Detroit down south of us where the automobile alley runs these days."

Bilstein is making a $130 million investment in the steel plant and will create 110 jobs. 

Meanwhile, one of Logan County’s largest employers is adding nearly 200 jobs.  Logan Aluminum is expanding its operations to become an automotive supplier. 

Governor Besehar made the announcement in Russellville Wednesday.

"More and more, vehicles are being made out of aluminum because you need a lighter weight to meet all the fuel requirements the government is putting on there these days to get the mileage necessary," Beshear added.

Logan Aluminum already produces rolled sheets for beverage cans.  The company has more than a thousand employees and will add another 190 with the expansion.

Stephen Jenkins watches a timer count down to the exact moment when he’ll drop a bucket of hops into a batch of what will become an amber ale.

“This one’s about nine pounds of a couple different kinds of hops,” said Jenkins, brewer for West Sixth Brewing in Lexington.

He’s perched on top of a catwalk overlooking a vat of wort — the primordial ooze that will be strained, left to ferment with yeast and eventually canned or kegged.

“It makes 40 barrels at a time, which is about 80 kegs, 80 half-barrel kegs, and we do two brews a day. So we’re going to do about 80 barrels of amber today,” Jenkins said.

West Sixth Brewing made about 2,000 barrels of beer in its inaugural year in 2011. This year, the company is on track to make 12,000 to 13,000 barrels.

Despite the brewing company’s rapid growth, it’s still a tiny carbonated bubble floating in an ocean dominated by two global breweries — Anheuser-Busch Inbev, the maker of Budweiser; and SABMiller, which makes Miller Lite.

T.J. Samson Community Hospital

T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Glasgow is working to acquire and operate Westlake Regional Hospital and its clinics in Adair County. 

Westlake’s parent company is currently in Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, having filed for protection in 2013.

In a news release, T.J. Samson CEO Bud Wethington said he is excited about future prospects for Westlake Regional Hospital.

"Westlake has been an important part of the healthcare infrastructure of Columbia and Adair County for 35 years," noted Wethington.  "We see great opportunities to collaborate with the physicians and employees to grow the health care services and continue its efforts to advance the health status across the region."

The planned acquisition is contingent upon several factors, including approval from creditors and healthcare regulators.

Kelley Beekeeping

The increasing popularity of beekeeping is leading to a business expansion in Grayson County. Kelley Beekeeping in Clarkson is investing $7.5 million and adding 50 new jobs to its current workforce of 90.

The 91-year-old company manufactures beekeeping products such as structures for hives,  protective clothing and honey extraction equipment. 

General Manager Sam Ruckriegel said there’s an increasing demand from a variety of customers. 

"It is something you see more and more people getting into," said Ruckriegel.  "We see it going into the retail market. We see what we call homesteading.  A lot of people are getting into being self-sustaining, bees being part of that, the natural sugars that they generate, and the honey."

Kelley Beekeeping has a global market that includes North and South America and the Philippines.  Ruckriegel said the increasing demand for beekeeping products may be due to a growing  awareness of the declining bee population.

There’s been a lot about the bees here lately, what we call colony collapse disorder. People are noticing that the bees are dying off and wanting to regenerate and bring them back," he said.  "One thing we don’t realize is that if we lose the bees, we lose a lot of our food supply, in the area of produce.”

He said bees are necessary to pollinate much of the produce we consume.  

Kelley Beekeeping is adding a new 80,000-square-foot building at its Clarkson headquarters. The additional 50 employees are expected to be hired over the next five years.

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