Friday, February 26, 2010

Governor Beshear Promotes Kentucky’s Aluminum Industry, Announces Incentive Approval for Rio Tinto Alcan


HENDERSON, Ky. (Feb. 26, 2010) – Gov. Steve Beshear today visited Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter in Sebree to tout the state’s aluminum industry and promote future opportunities for the industry in Kentucky.  Gov. Beshear was joined by officials from Rio Tinto Alcan, one of only a handful of aluminum smelters remaining in the United States, and representatives of the Kentucky Aluminum Network, a not-for-profit membership organization of Kentucky aluminum producers.

Kentucky is one of the top aluminum producing states, employing more than 13,500 Kentuckians and generating $100 million in state and local tax revenue each year.  The average annual wage for a primary metals job in Kentucky is more than $52,000.  In 2005, more than $4.3 billion of primary aluminum products were shipped outside the state.  Transportation, containers and packaging industries make up the largest markets for Kentucky aluminum establishments.

“The aluminum industry in Kentucky is a critical piece of the industrial landscape,” said Gov. Beshear.  “Stabilizing our existing industries and creating opportunities for growth and expansion in aluminum are key to Kentucky’s short and long-term economic future.”

To compete on a global basis with newer, more efficient facilities around the world, many of Kentucky’s larger industrial aluminum plants are seeking ways to invest and reinvent their processes.  To help facilitate this goal, Gov. Beshear announced the approval of up to $15 million in total state tax incentives for Rio Tinto Alcan to encourage the Sebree facility to make long-term investments in order to remain sustainable and globally competitive.

Rio Tinto Alcan is evaluating the installation of equipment to increase Potline amperage, thereby allowing the plant to be more efficient in aluminum production.  Additionally, the plant is considering the construction of a new Bake Furnace that would be more environmentally friendly and efficient in baking anodes that are utilized in Potlines.

“The state incentive package is another important step in our effort to acquire corporate approval for these two projects,” said Stephane Leblanc, plant manager of Rio Tinto Alcan.  “The improvements are important components for the longevity of the Sebree operation in western Kentucky.”

Rio Tinto Alcan currently employs 500 Kentuckians and is one of the largest employers in the Henderson County community.

“The Sebree smelter is one of our premier employers in the region, with high-paying jobs and steady employment,” said Henderson County Judge Executive Sandy Watkins. “Furthermore, the plant is part of the world-renowned mining giant Rio Tinto.  We are very happy to assist them in remaining sustainable and competitive.”

Kentucky is home to more than 120 aluminum-related facilities in all, including, Logan Aluminum in Russellville, Aleris Rolled Products in Lewisport, Gibbs Die Casting Corp. in Henderson, Century Aluminum of Kentucky in Hawesville, Aisin Automotive Casting in London, Cardinal Aluminum Company in Louisville, and many more. 

Kentucky offers several advantages to firms in the aluminum industry, including: low utility costs, central location, a quality workforce and ports along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  In fact, 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.

“Aluminum is important to Kentucky and today’s announcement demonstrates that importance,” said Kentucky Aluminum Network board member Kenny Barkley.  “Kentucky produces nearly one-third of the nation’s aluminum, and it is because of the state’s commitment to growing this signature industry that aluminum can continue to grow in Kentucky.”

The Commonwealth’s strong automotive industry is also an advantage to the aluminum industry.  Aluminum usage in automobiles has increased dramatically in recent years, and is now only behind iron and steel in average vehicle content.  Kentucky is currently ranked 3rd among the states in light vehicle production and is home to nearly 450 motor vehicle-related suppliers. 

“As more motor vehicle-related firms move to Kentucky and automobile manufacturers increase their use of aluminum, Kentucky becomes a natural home for aluminum-related companies,” added Gov. Beshear.

A profile of Kentucky’s aluminum industry is available on the Cabinet for Economic Development’s website athttp://thinkkentucky.com/kyedc/pdfs/Aluminum_Report.pdf.  Additional information is available by contacting the Kentucky Aluminum Network at
(877) 434-3766.

3/50 Project finds its way into region


By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:00 AM CST
A national small business project that caught fire via the Internet less than a year ago has made its way into Owensboro.

So far, two regional businesses have joined the 3/50 Project, but local businessman and local shopping cheerleader Gordie Wilcher hopes to build on that.

The idea is for consumers to pick three local businesses they wouldn't want to see disappear and spend $50 per month at each one.

Retail consultant and blogger Cinda Baxter put the idea out there last March with a free flyer for businesses to give to customers, and then followed it up with a Web site, www.the350project.net.

In the first seven days, 7,500 people found the site. Now, community groups across the country have joined.

Wilcher, co-owner of Owensboro Music Center, learned about the project from members of MusicStoreOwners.com. He's president of that national group of independent music store owners.

"Our mission is identical to the 3/50 Project -- saving brick and mortars (our nation is built on)," Wilcher said Thursday. "... I haven't done much with this yet. I want to learn more about it, but I hope to start a local groundswell."

Perry LeGate, owner of Laser One, which re-manufactures laser printer toner cartridges, was drawn to the 3/50 Project because of the message it delivers to support local businesses.

"We're the only company in western Kentucky I know of that does this (manufacturing) in-house," LeGate said. "We would like for people to know that we're supporting the local job market and the environment. And we're trying to build our economy here, instead of supporting some other economy somewhere else."

LeGate said he does business with his own customers "from buying cars to groceries," and he practices the 3/50 Project creed as often as he can.


The popular project is a new approach to the old directive to "shop locally."

Jody Wassmer, president of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, learned about it last year.

"I knew some other chambers were tapping into it," Wassmer said. "Here in Owensboro we were in the sixth year of our 'Owensboro Has It' campaign, and it had gotten some traction. We didn't want to change in the middle of it."

Wassmer did, however, incorporate the 3/50 Project's philosophy into the Owensboro Has It campaign last June.

In the local campaign, 40 chamber members pay a fee for a mixed media promotional package that changes a bit each year. The advertising is valued at about four times the fee.

Last June, the chamber included an advertising sticker on the front of the Messenger-Inquirer encouraging readers to think of their favorite local business and shop there at least twice during the month.

"Truth be told, on this 'buy local' theme catching hold now, the chamber was out in front a bit with our Owensboro Has It campaign," Wassmer said. "Every year the package changes, but the message is the same -- If you need something, look in Owensboro first. It's all about buying locally."

Wilcher admits he's "very passionate about buying locally." If the chamber doesn't pick it up, he will continue to promote it.

The economic slowdown has made that theme more challenging to sell, but he believes that continuing to put information before the public will have an impact.

He points to Baxter's numbers as a good start. She notes that for every $100 spent at independent stores, $68 comes back to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. For national chain stores, that return is $43. Communities need a balance of both local and national stores, she said.

"It may take a long time, but with education and with talking to people and showing them the facts in a reasonable manner, this can turn around," Wilcher said. "We need to use our heads; it makes sense to shop locally."

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com

Cash Creek Clean-coal project pushing for help from lawmakers

FRANKFORT -- Backers of the proposed $2 billion Cash Creek coal-gasification project in western Kentucky asked lawmakers Thursday to pass legislation that would force utilities to purchase the higher-priced electricity it would generate.

Reluctant lawmakers said they fear the proposal would lead to electric rate increases for Kentucky residents and businesses.

"That's what gives me heartburn," said state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, who was briefed on the project Thursday.

The proposed Cash Creek plant, which has received nearly all necessary environmental permits to begin construction, would convert coal into synthetic natural gas that would then be burned to generate electricity or sold through a gas pipeline. The plant at Henderson would be adjacent to a mine that would provide about 2.8 million tons of coal a year.



While state officials have embraced proposed clean-coal projects to maintain the market for the Kentucky's most abundant natural resource, Henderson officials are eyeing the jobs Cash Creek could create -- some 1,500 jobs during construction and 150 to 300 once the plant is up and running.

Cash Creek managing director Michael McInnis warned lawmakers on Thursday that if legislation isn't enacted, no coal-gasification plants will be built in Kentucky, perhaps opting instead to go into rival states like Illinois to set up shop.

Lawmakers boosted financial incentives last year to lure such projects to Kentucky. And they're working on legislation this year that would extend eminent domain rights to pipeline companies that would dispose of carbon dioxide, one of the chief byproducts of converting coal to cleaner burning fuels.

That measure passed the House last week and is pending in the Senate.

Lawmakers have boasted that passing the pipeline measure would help put Kentucky out front in converting coal to cleaner-burning fuels and could help the state if federal regulators impose additional restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.

Kentucky already allows the use of eminent domain for natural gas, oil and similar pipelines. The expansion would allow the proposed plants to pipe carbon dioxide to Texas to be injected underground.


Cash Creek and the ConocoPhillip's NewGas coal gasification project in Muhlenberg County both have lobbied for the pipeline legislation.

State Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said McInnis is asking for legislation that would include coal gasification as part of "a renewable portfolio standard," which essentially would require utilities to purchase a portion of their electricity clean-coal plants.

The Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and utility companies have already begun lobbying to defeat the legislation, even though it hasn't yet been filed.

Utilities want to purchase affordable electricity so that rates can remain low for Kentuckians, said Dennis Cannon, spokesman for the state's rural electric co-ops.

"The issue we look at is what's best for our customers," he said. "It appears that from what we have heard, electricity would be more costly than from other sources available to us."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bonds for new hospital slated to be issued

The Owensboro Medical Health System Board of Directors' Finance Committee announced Monday that the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority will issue two bonds Wednesday to finance its new hospital and retire existing debt.

The bonds will be available for sale exclusively to the public through retail brokers on the first day of sale. They will be made available exclusively to institutional buyers on Thursday.

The bond closing is scheduled for March 4.

"We expect the bonds will be sold by March 4, when the bond issues are scheduled to close," said Gordon Wilkerson, OMHS spokesman. "Construction for the new hospital will take place at the end of March or first of April."



The groundbreaking date for the new hospital on Daniels Lane will be set in the coming week.

A total of $544.9 million in bonds will be available. A bond of $474.8 million will be for financing the new hospital while a bond of $70.1 million will be to retire existing debt.

The bonds are rated BBB+ by Fitch and Baa by Moody's.

Kentucky residents may be eligible for double tax-free interest at or below 6.5 percent. The interest rate on the bonds will be determined at the close of business today. Investors are asked to consult with their tax advisers to determine any applicable federal, state or local tax liabilities.

The bonds will mature on dates ranging from 2013 to 2045.

Rich Suwanski, 691-7315, rsuwanski@messenger-inquirer.com

Friday, February 5, 2010

Brake: Future bright for city

Owensboro is "well positioned for the future, and we are on the move," Nick Brake told the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce's Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday.

Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., said, "Lord knows, we've had our share of challenges in the last year."

But despite the loss of 1,700 jobs in the three-county Owensboro metropolitan area in the past year -- 800 of them in manufacturing -- the Owensboro metro's unemployment rate is lower than the state's and the nation's, he said.

The local metro's jobless rate was 9.1 percent in December. Kentucky's unemployment rate was 10.4 percent, and the nation's rate was 9.7 percent.



Brake said the EDC is focusing on "three T's" -- targeted industries, technology-based companies and talent.

In the past two years, he said, Owensboro has attracted 13 new technology-based companies, which have an average salary that's three times the community's per capita income.

Most of those companies have only a handful of employees so far, however.

But Brake said, "Our volume of new companies is far greater than other parts of Kentucky."

The most significant long-term issue facing the community, he said, is attracting and keeping talented workers.

"Young people are the resource of the 21st century," Brake said.


And they are attracted to attractive, vibrant communities, he said.

"I can't overstate urban appeal" as an issue, Brake said.

That's why the community is spending $120 million on downtown revitalization, he said.

EDC's focus is currently on attracting entrepreneurs, retiring Baby Boomers and young people who have the opportunity to move their jobs with them, he said.

Brake said Owensboro Community & Technical College retrained approximately 500 workers last year for new jobs.

"A top issue among our existing employers is the widening skill gap due to the transition from a production-oriented to a technical-oriented work force," he said. "While product assembly jobs are on the decline, many of our regional manufacturers are hiring skilled technicians in industrial technology."

Brake said the demand for skilled technicians "will only increase due to the pending retirements in many of our advanced manufacturing facilities."

Closing the "skill gap," he said, "is a huge part of our ability to attract and retain these jobs in the future. We have lost projects due to the lack of skilled technicians in our work force. This is a critical issue for this region."

Brake said EDC will continue to work with Hancock County to attract industrial prospects, because it has plenty of available land along the river.

"The biggest projects we've courted have focused on land in Hancock County," he said.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

OMHS construction to bring 700-1,200 local jobs


OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - The construction firm for the new Owensboro Medical Health System facility met with local contractors and vendors to find potential workers.
Some are looking at this project to revive the local economy.
"It's a good opportunity for us to get some work," Mike Koger with Consolidated Mechanical said.  "We need the jobs and it's going to be good for the community."
Koger said his business once employed 300 people but that number is down to 25.
If chosen to work on the new hospital, he said it could add 50 jobs to his company alone.
"We need more jobs," he said.  "We need to keep the jobs we have here presently. Everybody is fighting for jobs right now in all the cities and opportunity that makes its way to Owensboro we like to grab a hold of it and move forward."
Turner Construction won the bid to build the new hospital and met with local employers Tuesday.
The Nashville-based company said it will only bring about 20 management workers to Owensboro. 
The rest of the jobs will be hired locally.
"It just makes sense from a cost perspective," Merrill Bowers with Turner Construction said. "If the labor is here why don't we use the labor here?"
Turner Construction said it will contract between 700 and 1,200 local workers on site.
"There's probably more trades involved in a health care project than in any other type of project in the respect that if we were comparing it to an office building or a retail center," Bowers said.  "We really have the entire gambit of the industry that will be required."

Unemployed use training to create new lives


By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010 12:17 AM CST
It's been almost five years now. But Jo Hall still remembers the shock -- and the fear.

It was March 2005.

Diversified Healthcare, a division of D&K Healthcare Resources Inc., announced that it was closing its distribution center at 800 Pleasant Valley Road in June.

The local office, originally Mullen & Haynes Inc. Wholesale Druggists, had been in business for 131 years.

"I had worked there 26 years," Hall said the other day.

She had worked her way up to inventory control manager.

"I was 43 years old and didn't know what I was going to do," Hall said.

Shawn Payne had worked at Premium Allied Tool in Philpot for almost 13 years when he was laid off in 2005.

"It was a shock when it happened," he said. "I was totally surprised. We had already had a couple of rounds of layoffs. But it became more real when it happened to me. I was 31 at the time. Tool and die making was all I knew."

But there is life after unemployment.


And better jobs are out there, Hall and Payne say.

"I decided to go to college," Hall said. "I was terrified of English and math, especially math. But I went college and got my associate (degree in business administration) at Owensboro Community & Technical College."

Still, finding a job wasn't easy.

"I sent out 22 résumés, some to places I hoped wouldn't call me because they only paid $7 an hour," Hall said. "Nobody called. I was down to my last unemployment check when the city called and asked me to take tests for the police department."

But getting hired at the police department can take up to three months, she said.

"I didn't know what I was going to do after my unemployment checks ran out," Hall said.

But she got the job.

"I started as a records clerk in March 2006," Hall said. "By November, I was working as a secretary in investigations. Now, I'm in support services, working with the training sergeant and with the public information officer. I help with the hiring now, and I understand why it takes so long."

"I had a skill," Payne said. "But I wasn't sure that tool and die making was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Because I lost my job to foreign competition, I was eligible for two years of training like a lot of the workers laid off today."

He took advantage of the Industry-Based, Modular, Accelerated Credentials option which is now part of the "Quick Jobs" program.

After Payne earned an associate's degree and graduated with honors, he was hired by the college to teach advanced manufacturing.

"It opened a lot of doors for me," he said. "I couldn't have imagined four years ago that I would be teaching today. There is life after unemployment. There are a lot of opportunities in education.

"A lot of people looked at me like I was nuts when I got into mechatronics (which blends several technology disciplines)," Payne said. "I'm happier today. I really enjoy teaching."

Success stories

"There are success stories out there in almost every sector of the regional economy," says Tonya Logsdon, associate director of the Green River Workforce Investment Board at the Green River Area Development District, which administers the funding for many of the dislocated worker programs.

"The program is designed to make a difference for people as they face the future after a layoff," she said.

The Quick Jobs program, designed to retrain workers in high-demand areas before unemployment benefits are exhausted, is a partnership between OCTC's Workforce Solutions division, the Green River Workforce Investment Board and the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

"We have a work force in transition," EDC President Nick Brake said. "The manufacturing work force has changed significantly in the last couple of years. Production jobs have been eliminated by automation or exported elsewhere.

"Most jobs in manufacturing require skilled technicians who can operate and maintain a piece of high-tech equipment."

The state says 1,700 jobs have been lost in the past year in the Owensboro metropolitan area -- Daviess, Hancock and McLean counties.

The majority were in manufacturing (800 jobs) and trade, transportation and utilities (500).

That's the number of layoffs, but the state says 5,161 were unemployed in the three counties in December.

A relatively small number of those are being retrained for other careers.

Logsdon said 754 people are currently enrolled in training through GRADD along with 70 who are in on-the-job training programs -- a total of 824 people.

Those numbers are for the entire seven-county GRADD area.

Brake said money probably isn't available to retrain 5,000 people in the three-county Owensboro metro.

"Money for training is an issue," he said. "Every city is in the same position that we are, and federal funds are gone in a lot of cases."

Many still hopeful

Many of those who are unemployed are still hopeful that they'll find another job in less time than it would take to complete the training programs, he said.

"There have been some hirings," Brake said. "Some people are finding jobs. But there's sometimes a skills discrepancy between some of the layoffs and the jobs that are open. The time commitment for training is ominous for a lot of people. But everyone we've talked to who's done it is glad they did it."

Rose Bowlds, an employment specialist at GRADD, said the medical field is in high demand among those seeking training.

"We have a lot going for phlebotomy, CNA (certified nursing assistant) and pharmacy tech," she said. "But we also have several in welding and electrical programs."

Brake said there are "three broad areas where we expect the most jobs to be through 2016 -- industrial maintenance, energy and health care."

About 40 percent of the industrial technicians in Hancock County's aluminum plants will be eligible for retirement in three to five years, he said.

"Energy will see some pretty intense interest -- from linemen to plant operators," he said. "The coal gasification plants that are being planned in the area would create up to 4,000 jobs. Then, there will be retirements at Owensboro Municipal Utilities, Kenergy and Big Rivers."

Brake said: "The hottest job is nursing. But there will be health care jobs from monitoring medical devices to IT to coding."

There's always a danger that too many people will enroll in a field and create a glut, he said. "But I don't think health care will be (oversaturated)."

The state says that the five fastest-growing occupations in Kentucky through 2012 will be in health care -- medical assistants, massage therapists, chiropractors, physician assistants and physical therapist aides.

Logsdon said that construction is another area where there will likely be opportunity in the coming months for skilled workers.

"With all the construction projects planned -- from the new hospital to new roads and school projects, we expect a significant need from the local work force," she said.

"It was scary for me to go back to school," Payne said. "But two years is really such a short time. I talk to people who've been laid off and tell them what I went through. You can't just have one skill set these days."

"I would advise anybody, even if they have a job, to get more training," Hall said. "Training is something nobody can take from you. It never hurts to better yourself.

"A lot of people I worked with couldn't even turn on a computer," she said. "I tried to get them to get more training, but they didn't want to. They wanted everything to be the way it was -- and it never will be."

For information on training programs available locally, call OCTC at 686-4444 or e-mail Logsdon attonyalogsdon@gradd.com.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

Two local companies cited among state's top employers

Two Owensboro-based companies will be among the winners at the sixth annual Best Places to Work in Kentucky awards dinner April 21 in Lexington.

The Kentucky Society for Human Resource Management State Council and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday that Independence Bank and the Green River Area Development District are among the 33 small and medium-sized companies to be honored.

Independence Bank made the list for the fourth consecutive year and GRADD for the second straight year.

Owensboro-based Atmos Energy had made the list for five consecutive years but was not on it this year.



The selection process, managed by Best Companies Group, is based on an assessment of the company's employee policies and procedures and the results of an internal employee survey.

The competition is designed to "motivate companies to focus, measure and move their workplace environments toward excellence," a news release said.

For information, check www.bestplacestoworkky.com.

OCTC Microsoft offer Free Computer Training

Kentucky residents -- especially unemployed workers -- seeking to boost their employability can get free, online technology training and certification through Owensboro Community & Technical College's participation in Microsoft's Elevate America Program.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is working with Microsoft and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to get the training vouchers into the hands of out-of-work residents and those who want to upgrade their job skills.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced the public-private, tech training partnership Wednesday.

Unemployed residents have priority for the free online vouchers until Feb. 10, according to Kim Brannock, spokesperson for the Office of Employment and Training in the education and workforce development cabinet.



However, anyone who wants to upgrade their skills to get a job can apply for the training at any time. Their applications will be held until after Feb. 10, Brannock said.

Government workers are ineligible.

Workforce Solutions at OCTC's downtown campus is partnering with the Office of Employment and Training to provide the vouchers/training locally.

Kentucky is getting 20,250 of the 1 million eLearning vouchers Microsoft is providing nationwide. They must be claimed by April 27.

"No college has a certain number of vouchers," said Jenny Mason, coordinator of assessment services in Workforce Solutions at OCTC. "It depends on who signs up. We don't know what the volume will be."

KCTCS's system office will track the volume with colleges distributing the vouchers on a first come, first served basis.


OCTC was still learning the details Monday, Mason said.

"Technology is in every job today," Mason said. "Those who take the training can earn a nationally recognized certificate which will be good for a résumé."

The free computer training ranges from basic skills to advanced classes leading to certification. No voucher is required for the basic skills.

Residents may sign up for various levels of tech training, but they can only take one course at a time and must complete one before enrolling in another.

Statewide, the OET will distribute 9,000 vouchers for online training, 9,000 for online testing and 2,250 for more advanced training courses.

The eLearning vouchers provide 12 months access to specific courses such as Windows XP, Office 2003, Vista or Office 2007.

A limited number of technical training and business certification vouchers also will be available statewide.

Joy Campbell, 691-7299, jcampbell@messenger-inquirer.com

For Free Tech Training

* To sign up for free, online, Microsoft training, call Linda Main at OCTC's Workforce Solutions, 686-4455.

* For more information and to view a list of Microsoft testing sites, visit www.kyelevateamerica.ky.gov.

* Questions about the program may be sent by e-mail to elevateamerica@ky.gov.

* To learn more about Microsoft's Elevate America national program, visit www.microsoft.com/elevateamerica.