Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Expansions punctuate year

Despite the worst recession since World War II, the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. has worked with 16 companies in the past year on expansions totaling more than $90 million, EDC President Nick Brake said Tuesday.

The expansions have created more than 500 jobs, he said.

Sixty percent of the total -- 300 jobs -- are being created by U.S. Bank Home Mortgage during a $14 million expansion in Highland Pointe off Kentucky 54.

"We're a little above the usual number of expansions this year," Brake said. "But we're a little above on the negative stuff, too."

The area has lost more than 800 manufacturing jobs in the past year, and another 350 are already scheduled to disappear in the next year.

Brake said the days of Owensboro being solely a manufacturing-based economy are over.

"This is why the expansion of the Owensboro Medical Health System is so important," he said. "It will further diversify our economy.

"We have companies that are in trouble," Brake said, "but we also have companies that are doing really well. Considering that this is a recession year, we're very happy with the number of expansions."

He said the area faces a problem of aging facilities -- many factories are at least 40 years old -- and an aging work force, many of whom will be retiring in the next five years.

"There aren't many production jobs out there," Brake said. "The shift in manufacturing is toward skilled technicians. A lot of our workers are going to have to be retrained."

The EDC list of expansions shows Unilever, $49 million, 59 jobs; Sazerac, $10.5 million, 50 jobs; S&Y LLC, $8 million, three jobs; SFG, $3.7 million, 30 jobs (and 450 saved); Sun Windows, $3.25 million, jobs not available; Swedish Match, $2.2 million, 15 jobs.

Echo Lake Foods, $1.5 million, 40 jobs; Industrial Mold & Machine, $1.3 million, five jobs; MPD, $298,000, 15 jobs; Messenger-Inquirer, $250,000, eight jobs; Canteen Services, $200,000, nine jobs; and Cox Paper & Printing, $30,000.

Brake said EDC is also working with Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky and Phill's Custom Cabinets on expansions. But the dollar amount of those expansions and the number of jobs they will create have not been worked out, he said.

"We have been watching this global economy evolve for a long time, anticipating that we could be affected," EDC Chairman Darrell Higginbotham said in a news release. "We have a three-year head start in adjusting to the shifting economic circumstances impacting us this year."

The EDC Strategic Plan, created in 2006, is a "four-tier strategy focusing on supporting existing businesses, targeted business attraction efforts, nurturing high technology company startups, and creating a community that attracts talent," Brake said.

"Sitting face to face with individuals and companies impacted by this global downturn has further motivated us to work harder than ever on a multi-faceted approach to economic development," Higginbotham said.

Brake said EDC has conducted three "coordinated campaigns" this year.

One was in green energy "hoping to capitalize on stimulus dollars in that sector, one in back office and professional service areas similar to the jobs U.S. Bank has in the region, and one in advanced manufacturing," he said.

EDC was ranked eighth last year by Site Selection magazine for most economic development projects among regions the size of Owensboro.

Brake said EDC is planning additional targeted campaigns in 2010.

Nearly two-thirds of new jobs are created by existing companies, he said.

Brake said the Emerging Ventures Innovation Center program headed by Madison Silvert has recruited 13 technology-based companies to start up in the region.

Earlier this year, Silvert was invited to speak to the Kansas City EDC about the success Owensboro has had in nurturing entrepreneurs, Brake said.

Looking ahead to next year, he said: "We're optimistic. We're working with a couple of existing companies looking at expansions and we're optimistic about some new companies."

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,