Find out the secret behind the automotive industry's sudden interest in Greater Owensboro.
Building on its long history of manufacturing, the three-county Greater Owensboro area has become a top location for manufacturers and a rich source of expertise and workforce talent for automotive suppliers and other industrial sectors.
Manufacturing in the area encompasses industries as diverse as food processing; automotive production; and plastics, paper and aluminum making. In Hancock County nearly three-fourths of every payroll dollar in the county originates in manufacturing.
In Hawesville, the county seat of Hancock County, top manufacturers include Domtar, which recently invested $20 million to upgrade its pulp and paper factory, and leading aluminum rod and cable maker Southwire. Daviess County is home to operations for Tier 1 auto supplier Toyotetsu Mid-America and Castlen Welding and Manufacturing, which invested $3.9 million in 2014 to expand its Maceo plant, where workers make material-handling equipment for the fertilizer and grain industries. One of the county’s newest manufacturers, Trifecta Steel, recently announced a $3 million expansion of its steel fabrication and welding facility in Owensboro, where it designs and fabricates steel building components and plans to add 30 jobs.
In neighboring Ohio County, Daicel Safety Systems America makes airbag inflators at the Bluegrass Crossing Business Centre, and Century Aluminum’s smelters in Hawesville and in Sebree in nearby Webster County support local and national manufacturers. Aluminum from the Hawesville facility is used by Southwire for production of its electrical wire and aerospace products.
Meeting Industry Demand
Area suppliers are benefiting from the trend of using more aluminum in auto manufacturing to boost fuel efficiency. Examples include Metalsa, which partnered with Alcoa to introduce a lightweight, all-aluminum truck frame to the commercial market, and Aleris, which is investing $350 million to expand its Lewisport rolling mill to meet the rising demand among automakers for its aluminum sheet metal. The mill will be the first of Aleris’ 11 rolled aluminum production facilities to be equipped with aluminum auto body sheet-finishing capabilities.
Companies in the metals industry as well as other manufacturers benefit from the region’s transportation connections. The area has several properties that offer both rail and river access, and the Owensboro Riverport Authority accommodates shipments by river, rail and highway.
“It isn’t common to have a river port like the one we have in this size of a city,” says Patty Osborne, vice president of business development for the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. “It is drawing large heavy industrial companies to our region and providing opportunities that otherwise might bypass us.”
Preparing the Workforce
To keep the workforce strong, the region participates in statewide workforce development programs, including the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) and Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (KY Track).
“Manufacturing never left this region, and it’s scaling up even more,” says Cindy Fiorella, vice president of workforce development at Owensboro Community and Technical College. “There are no more parts pluggers; manufacturers now need people who are cross-functional in both electrical and mechanical work.”
The college has partnered with the Greater Owensboro EDC and 13 businesses on the FAME program, an apprenticeship-style program that provides workers with on-the-job technical training while allowing them to earn an advanced manufacturing technician degree.
Owensboro Public Schools has also launched an Innovation Academy to prepare students for careers heavy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Its curriculum aligns to degrees at the college and uses hands-on, project-based instruction to train students for STEM jobs.
To aid Aleris in its workforce expansion, the college’s Workforce Solutions department has developed assessment tools to help the company evaluate its existing pool of employees and applicants to identify workers with the skills and aptitudes it needs.
“We’re testing for Aleris seven days a week for three weeks to accommodate shift rotations to give employees the optimal opportunity to be successful,” Fiorella says. “It’s our mission to work with the economic development stakeholders and the manufacturing community to do whatever it takes to strengthen the manufacturing base here.”
The Hancock County Industrial Foundation also works with schools to create a future pipeline of talent for manufacturing.
“A lot of our efforts revolve today around workforce development, and the foundation is very active in working with local high schools to prepare students for manufacturing careers,” says Hancock County Industrial Foundation Executive Director Mike Baker.