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.