The State of the Making – Smiley Pete Publishing

With a record number of new jobs and a wave of business expansions, Kentucky’s manufacturing industry is strong, said Frank Jemley, president of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM).

KAM’s annual Manufacturing Summit and Awards Luncheon, with Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, as keynote speaker, will take place October 19-20 in downtown Lexington. Ahead of the meeting, Jemley said the outlook for the industry over the coming year was encouraging.

“It’s been as strong as we’ve seen in the last 18 to 24 months,” Jemley said.

In 2021, Kentucky announced that more than 21,000 new jobs had been created statewide. Of those, Jemley said, about 90% were in manufacturing.

Currently, according to KAM statistics, manufacturing employs about 244,000 people in Kentucky — more than 13 percent of the state’s workforce — at nearly 4,500 manufacturing plants. Each year, the manufacturing sector is responsible for $38.33 billion in production, or 17.8% of the state’s gross domestic product. Kentucky ranks third in the nation for automobile production.

According to the Kentucky Council for Economic Development, Kentucky’s central location, workforce, and business-friendly environment have helped attract new businesses to the state. In the past five years, according to the CED, manufacturers have announced more than 1,100 plant or expansion projects with a stated capital investment of more than $21 billion.

In September 2021, Ford Motors announced that it would build a battery plant in Hardin County for nearly $6 billion. In April 2022, Envision AESC announced that it would build an electric vehicle battery plant in Warren County for $2 billion.

“We are solidifying the Commonwealth of Kentucky which is the undisputed capital of electric battery production in the United States,” Governor Andy Beshear said.

State Rep. Michael Meredith (R-Bowling Green) said the legislation has helped spur manufacturing growth.

“Since 2017, the majority of the House has put an ‘open for business’ sign on the Commonwealth with growth-friendly policies, ongoing tax reform efforts and working to make us a better place to live and work in the daily,” he said.

Beshear said adding the battery manufacturing plants would bring even more businesses to the state.

Jemley agrees.

“Kentucky’s reputation for outstanding products and global competitiveness is manifesting itself in the growing attention paid to the state and a growing number of companies locating their factories here,” he said. he declares.

“Overall, Kentucky manufacturers are optimistic about their prospects for strengthening and growth across the Commonwealth,” Jemley said. “I was impressed with my conversation with our members. Our manufacturers are focused on doing their job and doing it well while producing what their customers need. »

One of the challenges facing the manufacturing sector, like all industries, is ensuring an adequate workforce.

“Labour issues are a significant challenge, not just in manufacturing, but across the state’s economy,” Jemley said. “Without doubt, this is the biggest challenge we face. A lot of thinking is going on to find ways to solve this challenge.

Vijay Kamineni, chief innovation technology leader at Logan Aluminum in Russellville, said his company sees a continued bull market. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, the company has learned to work differently and adapt to new working conditions. However, demand for Logan products has increased. The company manufactures aluminum for beverage cans and is responsible for approximately 45% of the beverage can foil market.

“We see that the market is still showing an upward trend,” he said. “We look forward to the next two years, although we face supply chain and workforce challenges. Manufacturing is still a very strong industry sector, and Logan Aluminum is no different.

One change in recent years, Kamineni said, has been a renewed focus on minimizing the company’s carbon footprint.

“Sustainability and environmental stewardship have always been a priority at Logan,” he said. “We use recycled aluminum, which saves a lot of energy and reduces our carbon footprint. But we’ve been more focused over the past two years on not just doing less harm, but also doing more good.

Kamineni said that’s a trend he sees in the Kentucky industry.

The biggest challenge in manufacturing right now, he said, is change.

“Change is a positive thing, but it takes time,” Kamineni said. “Above all, for any manufacturer, we want to work in a way that everyone is safe. But it is a rapidly changing world. The change in manufacturing is taking a little longer to ensure processes are safe and efficient. »

While the outlook is good, Carlos Lopez, chief operating officer at ED Bullard Co., said recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is underway.

A maker of personal protective equipment — including thermal imagers, hard hats, fire and rescue helmets and respiratory protective equipment — Bullard has not shut down during the pandemic, Lopez said. . But the pandemic has allowed the company to look inward and streamline some of its processes and procedures, as well as upgrade its equipment. He said supply chain issues and labor challenges have improved since the pandemic, but have not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, the company expects single-digit growth this year, he said.

Marjorie N. McClure