Wednesday, November 25, 2009

OCTC Campus in Hancock County Critical Tool for Regional Economic Development

Hancock County leaders are taking a different tack to secure work force training and other postsecondary education opportunities closer to home.

A delegation representing Hancock County met last week with Gov. Steve Beshear to seek his support for state funding to cover start-up costs for an Owensboro Community & Technical College satellite campus.

The satellite community college campus is regional in its scope, said Mike Baker, executive director of the Hancock County Industrial Foundation.

"The project involves a real cross section of the community, and we were all there to meet the governor with a common vision," Baker said of the meeting with the governor. "That's one of the aspects that really resounded with him."

Attending the Frankfort meeting, in addition to Baker, were Jack McCaslin, Hancock County Judge-Executive; Scott Lewis, superintendent of Hancock County Public Schools; Dave Whitmore, Century Aluminum manufacturing manager; Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.; and Larry Durrence, interim president of OCTC.

"Some of the governor's staff asked Mike (Baker) for more information, and he is getting that," McCaslin said. "I think once they get some numbers, we'll see some things start happening. ... He (Baker) got the ball rolling."

The on-site training is critical to preserving high-wage, aluminum and energy industry jobs and attracting more industries to Hancock County, officials said.

The satellite location also will help high school students get a leg up on postsecondary training and education.

"What we have learned is that Hancock County's existing work force is getting older, and a large percentage, perhaps more than 40 percent, could retire in the next three years," said Durrence. "If they lose that much of their work force, it will be critically important to have trained employees to replace it."

A lack of ready and trained workers could cause industries considering Hancock County to look elsewhere, Durrence said.

"This is a great opportunity to accelerate the training opportunities in the community," Baker said. "These industries work 24/7, and having training available closer to home can have real value."

OCTC has no money to lease a building, and it takes years to get a building approved in the state capital budget process, Durrence said. Plus, the state does not have money for new projects.

The consortium has located a building in the Lewisport Shopping Center on U.S. 60 that could be remodeled, Baker said.

That led to the meeting with the governor.

The satellite campus would allow Hancock County to bring classes for high school students and local industries under one roof, Baker said.

"When you have a project and you are looking for several million dollars to build buildings, there is a right and wrong time to do that," Baker said. "We decided to take a different approach to accomplish the same objectives."

Hancock County Fiscal Court and the business community would share in the expenses. The group is seeking state funds for the facility's lease, utilities and other costs.

"Fiscal Court is very excited about this project," McCaslin said. "We've been trying to get state funds for a technical school on our high school campus for years, and every time we rise to the top of the funding pile, the bottom falls out of the economy."

The OCTC campus would help to supply existing industries with a skilled work force, the judge said.

"The big thing is that we have about 3,000 jobs for, not only our county residents, but also the surrounding counties," McCaslin said. "Sometimes we tend to forget our existing industries, and we don't want to do that."

The county government, school system, community college and industries "will all throw some money into this," he said.

"Even though we (OCTC) have no money for a facility, we are committed to providing the instructional aspects of the satellite campus," Durrence said. "We want to be a good partner with them."

OCTC will provide some equipment and instructors, he said.

"I really hope we can keep this moving forward," Durrence said.

More college credits in high school

Lewis is excited about the potential for Hancock County High School students if a satellite community college campus is established.

"This is my fourth year as superintendent, and getting a vocational school has been a priority for me because of the industry we have here," Lewis said. "We want to make sure we graduate our high school students and they have the opportunity to stay here -- and that we continue to have those high-paying jobs for them."

The OCTC satellite campus would allow local industries to train their employees close to their jobs and not have them gone all day, Lewis said.

The high school now has three vocational courses -- information technology, nursing and mechatronics.

"We added mechatronics last year in our maintenance garage because we don't have room," Lewis said.

The project also will help the school district fulfill its vision for high school students to be able to take up to 60 college hours and have about two years of college credits "paid for" by the time they graduate, the superintendent said.

"We're getting very close to having that plan worked out," Lewis said. "Students can do that now, but they pay for it. This would cost the school district, but it would be free to students."

The goal is for high school students to have the opportunity "to graduate with a vocational certificate and be employable or to have enough college credits to be close to an associate's degree," he said.

Currently, students who are dually enrolled are "ones who would go on to college anyway," he said.

Local educators want to see more of their students who may not have thought about college to learn that they can succeed.

"A lot of our kids -- they may be the first in their families to go to college," he said.

The high school already has begun to align its curriculum with OCTC's, Lewis said.

"At the same time, that increases our rigor," he said. "We've done a good job of doing that in elementary and middle school, but our high school had stayed the same until now."

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,

Hollison Technologies Await Opening of Owensboro Centre for Business and Research

Kevin Humphrey, president of Hollison Technologies LLC, is anxiously awaiting the opening of the Centre for Business and Research at 1016 Allen St.

His company is ready to open a 1,000-square-foot office and lease lab space in the center as soon as it opens.

"We're hoping to move in in January," Humphrey said Friday. "Over the next 12 months, we'll be needing to hire as many as 10 people trained to do what we're doing."

That includes people to go into the field and monitor the company's equipment as well as an office manager, a research and development team, tech people to repair and service equipment and sales people to work the telephones, he said.

Hollison is a high-tech company that says its product "enables continuous sampling of food commodities with state-of-the-art detection of contaminants ranging from chemical to biological and radiological. The technology also allows food producers to follow commodities through a web-based software tracking capability."

Sampling, detection and tracking can take place much faster than traditional approaches, while also operating outside a conventional lab, the company says.

In September, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. announced an investment of $200,000 in Hollison Technologies. That came on the heels of a $50,000 investment from the local Emerging Ventures Seed Fund.

"We're a five-year overnight success," Humphrey joked.

He said he's been working on the process for the past five years with partners Eric Dodd of Evansville and Doug Wood of Island. They recently added Tony Bashall of Massachusetts as a fourth partner.

The company's name is a combination of Humphrey's daughters' names -- Holly and Ellison.

Humphrey and his brother, David, owned Agri-Tech, a business they opened in Livermore in 1996, specializing in grain-handling equipment, poultry house construction, electrical work and steel building construction.

When that business closed, he started working on Hollison, Humphrey said.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prospect of new downtown event center drawing interest

Once Owensboro breaks ground on a new downtown events center, the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau expects to be able to sign large cheerleading, dance and tae kwon do tournaments.

"We're still negotiating with them," Jared Bratcher, the bureau's sports marketing director, told Tuesday's board meeting at the Visitor Information Center. "But they're extremely excited about the new events center and I think they'll sign as soon as ground is broken."
Bratcher said the city might be able to attract a few smaller events from those groups at the Sportscenter before the events center is open.
"But the Sportscenter is an outdated facility," he said. "They want to be in a state-of-the-art center."
Bratcher said Owensboro has landed the Baseball Players Association's world series for 8, 9 and 12 year olds for July 21-25 and the National Softball Association's Class E men's world series for Sept. 17-19.

"Class E is the lowest (skill) level," Bratcher said. "But it brings in the most teams. We should have at least 50. They'll spend more money in town and have more fun than the professional players."
The bureau's calendar already shows 36 tournaments for 2010 with more to come, he said.
The city is doubling the number of football tournaments -- from two to four -- next year, Bratcher said.
Bowling Green announced this week that the Amateur Softball Association had awarded it six tournaments for 2010 and 2011 that should pump $18 million into that city's economy.
Bratcher said he's still working on the economic impact for the 2010 tournaments here.
"But it'll be way more than that," he said.

Bratcher told the board that the sports industry has not seen the collapse that other parts of the economy have experienced.

"But it's getting so competitive" to land tournaments, he said. "Every city has a new park or they're throwing lots of money around. It's a real competitive atmosphere. But our reputation sometimes lifts us over the money."

"Everybody wants to be Owensboro," said Karen Miller, the bureau's executive director.
She said the bureau is working on creating a regional cycling event for next fall.
"We have to put our best foot forward when these teams are in town," said Brian Smith, co-owner of Diamond Lake Resort and treasurer of the board. "We can't rest on our laurels. We have to keep fighting."

Bratcher said he's working to attract hockey tournaments to the city's new ice center.
"We can't get the really big tournaments because we only have one" playing surface, he said. Louisville, Lexington and Evansville have two.

"But I believe we'll get the state hockey tournament in a few years," Bratcher said.
He's also working to get a sport stacking tournament in town. Sport stacking involves stacking plastic cups in as little time as possible.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,

Owensboro named best place to raise a family

Business Week Magazine has rated Owensboro the best place to raise a family in Kentucky.
The magazine mentions Owensboro's low crime rate, outstanding student test scores and low cost of living as reasons why it ranked the city number one in the Commonwealth.
Some Owensboro folks said that's no surprise.
"Certainly those of us already raising children in Owensboro know it's a great place to raise kids and so this is really a great opportunity for us to get some national attention about something we already know about here, what a great family town this is," Nick Brake withGreater Owensboro Economic Development said.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Aluminum producers seek signature industry

The Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and Northwest Kentucky Forward, an economic alliance of Henderson, McLean, Union and Webster counties, have joined with area aluminum producers to form the Kentucky Aluminum Network.

"I think it has the potential to become a statewide organization," Mike Baker, Hancock County's economic development director, said last week. "When you look at the footprint aluminum has here in Kentucky, it definitely has the potential."

Baker retired in December as general manager of the Aleris International plant in Hancock County after 25 years in the aluminum industry.

"We want to raise the awareness of the people and especially the elected officials," he said. "There are 120 aluminum and aluminum-related facilities in 53 cities in Kentucky. Most people readily acknowledge the horse and bourbon industries as signature industries. We want to get aluminum placed in that category."

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development says, "As measured by the value of shipments, Kentucky ranks as the number one state in the primary aluminum industry."

Kentucky's advantages, the cabinet says in a recent report, include low utility cost, a central location, a quality work force, ports along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and a significant presence of the automotive industry.

The report says:

* There are 120 aluminum-related facilities with 14,771 employees in Kentucky.

* There are 9,244 primary aluminum industry employees in Kentucky.

* Primary aluminum shipments totaled more than $4.3 billion in 2005.

* In 2007, the median wage for primary metal industry employees in Kentucky was $52,336 a year and $38,983 for the fabricated metal industry.

* Gibbs Die Casting in Henderson is one of the largest aluminum employers in Kentucky with 800 workers.

* Alcan Ingot in Henderson and Century Aluminum of Kentucky in Hawesville are two of 14 active aluminum smelters in the U.S.

* Century Aluminum and Alcan Ingot combined have a production capacity representing around 16 percent of active smelter production capacity in the U.S.

* The Owensboro Riverport is one of only two licensed warehouses approved by the New York Mercantile Exchange to serve as the delivery point of primary aluminum traded on its COMEX Division aluminum futures contract.

"We want to get out in front of state leaders with this," said Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro EDC. "We want to get as many members as possible before the legislature convenes in January. We'll be recruiting members from across Kentucky."

KAN, he said, is a nonprofit membership organization for producers.

"A lot of the (aluminum) facilities in this area are around 40 years old," Brake said. "A lot of the work force has been there that long. They're going to be needing fresh talent in a few years."

"The facilities' infrastructure is one of the biggest threats," Baker said.

When companies have limited dollars for capital expenses, he said, they find themselves having to decide whether to invest in new technology or renovate older plants.

"We need to raise awareness of aluminum's importance to Kentucky," Baker said. "It's a huge part of the economic engine in Hancock County. When they're running at capacity, the plants here employ more than 2,000 people.

"The area between Hancock and Henderson counties has more than 30 plants and more than 5,000 aluminum jobs with a $290 million payroll," he said.

KAN's goal, Baker said, "is to bring producers together with customers and suppliers. We want to have a unified voice when we look at the threats to the industry. We need cost-effective energy."

Baker said most aluminum plants aren't visible from Kentucky's major highways.

"Aluminum casts a long shadow in Kentucky," he said. "The plants are out there, you just don't see them from the main roads."

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Centre for Business and Research Receives $1 Million in EDA Funding

The U.S. Economic Development Administration says Owensboro's Centre for Business and Research will eventually create 50 jobs and generate $20 million worth of private investment in the community.

That's why the agency is pumping $986,000 into the center to buy wet lab equipment.

During a news conference at the center Thursday, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie said the community won the federal grant by "having the best idea" for how to spend the money.

"It was a competitive grant," he said. "Owensboro was competing against other cities."

High-tech companies "don't like stuffy office buildings," Guthrie said. "They like interesting buildings."

And the idea of using an old tobacco warehouse to, among other things, search for cures for cancer was intriguing to people in Washington, said Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican.

The 37,000-square-foot brick warehouse at 1016 Allen St. was built in 1923 for the Southwestern Tobacco Co.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire said the city has invested $2.5 million in the center and the county has put up $500,000. With the federal money for the wet labs, the project is already approaching $4 million.

And Haire said he's hoping the state will also come up with some financial support for the center.

Madison Silvert, vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and executive director of its eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation, said the first two tenants -- Dalisha's Desserts and Hollison Technologies -- should be moving into the building by the end of December or early in January.

He said he's also working with two other possible tenants and hopes to have announcements about them soon.

Silvert said the estimate of 50 jobs and $20 million in private investment is based on a similar facility in Bowling Green.

He said EDC has set a goal of having 10 companies in the center within three years.

"I think things will really pick up after we go to the BIO International Convention in Chicago in May," Silvert said.

The wet labs, to be funded by federal dollars, should be ready to open by February, he said.

"No startup company could afford some of the equipment we'll have in the wet labs," Silvert said. "Without this grant, they would have to go somewhere for the equipment."

EDC actually has a list of $1.9 million in lab equipment that it wants for the center.

The list of 60 items needed for the wet lab includes a $300,000 mass spectrometer, two $10,000 microscopes with cameras, two $8,000 biological safety cabinets, two $12,000 freezers that cool to 80 degrees below zero and $60,000 worth of general laboratory equipment.

The wet labs make it more likely that some high-tech startup companies will locate in Owensboro, Silvert said.

The federal money comes from a pot allocated to communities that had severe damage from Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Guthrie said the idea is that while such communities were spending time and money on recovery, they fell behind on economic development.

Although the announcement was made Thursday in Owensboro, the EDA actually announced it in Washington back in September.

An announcement for the week of Sept. 18-25 says the Owensboro grant was one of 69 EDA investments of more than $100,000 during the week.

The grants totaled $104.8 billion for projects totaling $170.2 billion.

Henderson received a $921,000 grant from the EDA that week for dredging and widening the North Branch of Canoe Creek.

Malcolm Bryant, who owns the tobacco warehouse and is renovating it for the project, said the building will be unique to Kentucky. He expects it to attract a lot of attention.

The center will include research space for biotech companies as well as office space for a "business accelerator," a place where new businesses can rent as much space as they need until they're ready to move out on their own.

Bryant said he's expecting approximately 20 tenants when the building is full.

Silvert said he expects several of the companies to grow large enough to move out into other office buildings in the community and make space for newer companies.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

OMHS receives approval to move forward with construction of new hospital

The Owensboro Metropolitan Board of Adjustment granted two conditional use permits to Owensboro Medical Health System on Thursday, November 5th, a significant legal and regulatory step to construct a replacement hospital.  The new facility will provide medical treatment to patients living in more than 11 counties in Kentucky and Indiana and employ a growing workforce now at 3,200.

The permits provide official authorization to construct a 477-bed hospital on a 147-acre tract of land owned by OMHS on the city’s east side—bordered by Daniels Lane, Pleasant Valley Road and the planned US 60 East Bypass extension.

“Getting the go-ahead from the Owensboro Metropolitan Board of Adjustment allows us to move forward with building the new OMHS hospital,” said Jeff Barber, president and CEO. “We have obtained the necessary approvals from local, state and Federal authorities to begin the development process, and remain fully committed in every way to constructing and operating our region’s new home for quality care.

 “Over the last three years, thousands of patients, employees, physicians and members of the community have attended forums, sent emails and participated on patient experience teams to help us develop the ideal environment for patient care,” Barber said. “We also want to thank our board of directors, and all local, state and Federal officials who have labored with us to arrive at this point.”

OMHS has also built mock-up patient rooms and operating room suites in its Business Center at 2511 Frederica. Architects and other members of the New Hospital Design Team will use them to adjust and refine design elements with the input obtained from community feedback.

“The project is rolling,” said David Carter, of KLMK Group—the project manager for hospital construction. “Our entire design team is working daily toward a March 2010 groundbreaking with a projected opening in 2013.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Owensboro International Center will Welcome Refugees from Iraq

OWENSBORO, Ky. -- A Bowling Green nonprofit that relocates refugees has received federal approval to open a satellite office in Owensboro.

The Bowling Green International Center will begin relocating refugees to Owensboro later this year or early next year. The Messenger-Inquirer reports that officials from the international center and local volunteers have been working for more than a year to make the city a satellite location.

"It is so exciting," said Suzanne Rose, a local volunteer and associate English professor at Kentucky Wesleyan College. "I can't believe after all the waiting, here we are."

A site for the office has not been selected. Rose said she plans to meet with the Rev. Larry Hostetter, president of Brescia University, about placing the office in space the university owns.

Some Brescia students might also be working with the refugees, Hostetter said.

James Robinson, executive director of the international center, said he believes the organization will be resettling refugees by January.

"That will give us time to get organized," Rose said. "If we need to change anything, we'll have opportunity."

Robinson said the international center has a lot of ground work to do now that the satellite office has been approved by the federal government.

"We're in the helping profession," Robinson said. "The more places we can go and the more tools we can use to help people, then that's good. We want to extend help in every way we can. ... Owensboro gives us an extra vehicle to help more people."

Refugees are expected to come from Iraq and Myanmar, and volunteers have learned about the cultures of those countries. They will help refugees find housing, furniture and jobs, and help children enroll in local schools.

Refugees are given some money to help them get started, but they have to eventually pay back their travel expenses to the government.

Refugees are also required to go through extensive background checks before they are permitted to enter the country.

Information from: Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer,