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Expansion Management: South Central Kentucky Grows Good Workers

Jan. 15, 2014
Long-time manufacturers, including GM, find South Central Kentucky to be a supportive location.

Pride in manufacturing runs deep in South Central Kentucky. Since 1953 the region has been home to “America’s sportscar” – the Corvette.

Every Corvette ever made is produced at the GM Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The continuous production of this beloved car in one location has gone a long way toward keeping manufacturing strong in South Central Kentucky. In fact when the plant was named Manufacturer of the Year by the Kentucky Association for Manufacturers on October 4, 2013, Brad Howard, chairman of  Chamber Board of Directors said “GM has redefined the business climate of South Central Kentucky.”

Last year saw yet another invesment by GM in the area when the company chose to relocate its Performance Build Center in Bowling Green.

See Also: Manufacturing Plant Site Location Strategies

“While there was plenty of competition as to where to locate the Center, locating here at the plant and near the museum was a natural choice, as this will further enhance this location as an entertainment center for Corvette enthusiasts,” explained Dave Tatman, plant manager. “Starting this quarter there will be a production line at the Center where Corvette afficionados can build their own specialty engines.”

The museum is the National Corvette Museum which was built in 1994 to celebrate the auto’s invention as well as ensure the folklore continues into the present. Corvette afficianados are in abudance as 1. 4 million of the 1.5 million cars built are still around.

However, one of the strongest factors in choosing this area for expansion is due to the strength of the workforce. “People in our plant, and this area, are very experienced,” said Tatman. “They know how to work hard.”

A regionally strong workforce has helped support manufacturer Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products (KAAP). The company, which is part of the Kobe Steel Group and has been serving the aircraft and automotive industry in Japan since 1937, began production in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2005.

The company feels that it’s the historic background of the area that has contributed to a strong manufacturing workforce. “Our regional advantage is the history of farm owners and operators,” said Gregory Head, corporate secretary,General Affairs for KAAP. “This legacy is what develops and nurtures a strong work ethic that understands simple principles such as ‘work for it if you want it’.  We owe our regional success to the hard working families who settled this area many years ago and breathed the necessity of a strong work ethic into it.”

Internal Training Pays Off for Logan Aluminum

Logan Aluminum agrees with the source of the workforce’s drive. L The company, which is a joint venture with Novelis Corp. and Tri-Arrows Aluminum Corp., operates a plant near Russellville, Ky. The company manufactures flat rolled aluminum sheet, primarily for use in the beverage can market.

“When we opened our plant 30 years ago, we transformed a group of people with a very strong work ethic to excel at manufacturing using an internal training program,” explained Doris Moody, human resources team leader. “ South Central Kentucky offers a workforce that has flexibility and a willingness to learn new technologies.”

To develop its workforce the company operates a corporate university that provides approximately forty thousand hours of training each year.  They also operate a three-year maintenance apprenticeship program.

“We have a robust talent management process, including an annual review, to ensure our pipeline of talent will meet current and future business needs,” explains Moody. Logan also utilizes a six-month internal leadership development program to prepare new and potential leaders to assume leadership roles.  “The program is highly successful and is in its twentieth year of operation,” explains Moody.

KAAP also has its own internal strategy to develop its workforce. “We utilize a compensation strategy that employs those with drive and ‘hunger’, rewards those who actively manage their career by mastering jobs and teaching others, and provides job enrichment via collaboration and cooperation in daily business decisions,” said Head. 

Economic development organizations aid this workforce training.  Logan points out that their economic development group and area technical centers are also very active in identifying future job skill needs and work to ensure students graduating are prepared to enter the workforce.  They also utilize grants and tax credits through Kentucky’s Department for Economic Development - Bluegrass State Skills Corp. to supplement funding of internal training programs.

KAAP works with the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board  and the state’s One Stop Career Centers’ strategies for “efficient utilization of public monies while strategically influencing the collaborative efforts of other companies via the local Chamber and its staff,” said Head

“The local Chamber of Commerce fully understands the realities of economics driven by job production," Head added. "The State has been more than supportive of our company by providing intense customer service when required to insure future investments occur.”

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