Monday, November 29, 2010

Daviess jobless rate dips to 8%

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Nov. 25--Daviess County's unemployment rate dropped to 8 percent in October -- the lowest level here in nearly two years, the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training said Wednesday

The county's jobless rate hit 10.7 percent in June 2009 -- the first time it had been in double digits since July 1987.

It's been gradually falling since then, hitting 8.5 percent in September.

The last time Daviess County saw a rate lower than 8 percent was in December 2008 when it was at 7.1 percent at the beginning of what would become the Great Recession.

"That is good news," said Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

The good news should continue into 2011, he said.

"We've remained a bit below the state and national rates most months," Brake said.

The state rate was 9.3 percent in October. The national rate was 9 percent.

"Some of the increase in employment is from all the construction jobs in the county," Brake said.

Major projects include a new National Guard armory, U.S. Bank Home Mortgage call center and the hospital Owensboro Medical Health System is building.

"We're not satisfied yet," Brake said. "We're still working to get more jobs."

Only the Lexington metro among Kentucky's five metropolitan areas had a lower unemployment rate than the Owensboro metro in October.

Lexington's rate was 7.6 percent. Owensboro's was 8 percent.

The Louisville metro had the state's highest metro rate at 9.4 percent.

The state says the Owensboro metro area -- Daviess, Hancock and McLean counties -- has added 700 jobs in the past year.

The biggest growth, it said, was in government jobs -- up by 400.

That was followed by professional and business services, 200 jobs, and manufacturing, educational/health services and "other services," 100 each.

Some of those gains were offset, however, by the loss of 200 mining, logging and construction jobs here in the past year, the state said.

State records show a work force of 48,801 in Daviess County in October. Of those, 44,903 were working and 3,898 were searching for jobs.

All five counties in the Owensboro area saw unemployment rates in single digits in October. Muhlenberg was the only area county with a rate of more than 9 percent.

Ohio had an 8 percent rate; Hancock, 8.1 percent; McLean, 8.4 percent; and Muhlenberg, 9.3 percent.

The state said jobless rates fell in 113 of the 120 counties last month.

Woodford County recorded the lowest rate at 6.6 percent. Webster County had western Kentucky's lowest rate at 7 percent.

Magoffin County had the state's highest rate at 16.8 percent. Grayson County had western Kentucky's highest rate at 12.8 percent.

Statewide, "Six consecutive months of year-over-year job growth provides additional evidence of revitalization in the economy," Justine Detzel, the state's chief labor market analyst, said in a news release.

Unemployment statistics are based on estimates and are compiled to measure trends rather than actually to count people working, she said.

Across Kentucky, the professional and business services sector has added 8,600 jobs in the past year.

That's followed by manufacturing, 6,900 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, 5,300; leisure and hospitality, 3,000; "other services," 2,200; educational and health services, 2,000; and mining and logging, 400.

But the construction industry lost 7,100 jobs in the past year, while government lost 4,200; financial activities, 2,100 and information, 600.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quest to design convention center just starting

By Steve Vied, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Sunday, November 14, 2010 12:20 AM CST
About three years from now, the downtown Owensboro convention and events center is scheduled to open. But what the $27 million facility will look like is unknown. Even Trey Trahan and Leigh Breslau, the men who will lead the team that will design it, can't say.

"We just don't know," Trahan said. "It's unpredictable."

"We don't know the palate or shape, we've just really started," Breslau said. "There are lots of options with the site and a number of ways to respond to the riverfront and the rest of downtown. ... We're in the predreaming stage."

What Trahan and Breslau will say is that the building will be highly functional, appropriate for Owensboro, reflective of the culture and history of the community and will embrace its surroundings, especially the sweeping curve in the Ohio River that it will overlook.

And one more thing: It will be "exciting."

"We really want to create a building that is inviting to people and exciting," Breslau said. "That will take time."

The clock has started, and the design work that's expected to be completed about a year from now has begun. Trahan and Breslau, the principal members of Trahan Architects of Baton Rogue, La., and Chicago, and some of their associates on the project were back in Owensboro last week, talking to people, walking around the city and looking once more at where the convention center will be built, on the site formerly occupied by the Executive Inn Rivermont.

The Trahan architectural firm was selected in late October to design the convention and events center. Trahan is the principal architect in charge of the project. Breslau is the project architect.

Until a few months ago, Breslau was a design partner for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architects of Chicago, where he led the arts and assembly design studio, focusing on performing arts and public assembly projects. He now oversees Trahan Architects' Chicago studio.

Breslau had a long and distinguished career at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. He led the design work on Millennium Park in Chicago and led the design teams for the 1.3-million-square-foot Zhongshan International Exhibition Center in southern China, the $254 million McCormick Place Phase 2 convention center expansion plan in Chicago (1.6 million square feet), the 800,000-sqaure-foot Suzhou, China, International Expo Center and the 558,000-square-foot Tanguu Hotel and Conference Center in Tianjin, China.

Breslau also led the team that designed the award-winning, $212 million, 500,000-square-feet-plus Virginia Beach Convention Center, which is considered a big success in that coastal city.

The Virginia Beach Convention Center is a glass-encased collection of structures, one with an elegantly curved exterior evocative of an airplane's wing. Every day, scores of military jets from nearby Navy bases streak across the sky above Virginia Beach. Inside the convention center are elevated meeting rooms covered in wood that suggest the shape of ships that are part of the city's shipbuilding heritage. Entering the convention center, visitors walk across wood planks, a nod to the docks that once were so much a part of the city's oceanfront landscape.

None of those elements are close to gimmicks, the architects insist, and gimmickry will not be a part of the Owensboro project.

"It's not about taking icons and attaching them to walls," said Trahan.

Or, as Breslau put it, Daviess County's tobacco-growing history will not lead to tobacco plants hanging in the lobby.

Actually, Trahan said the convention center will look more to the present and the future rather than the past.

"It should reflect this time, not times past," he said. "It should look forward. We hope time moves toward it. Grand Central Station in New York was considered a modern abomination, but now it's considered traditional and beautiful. I hope we can create something that is connected to place, uniquely reflective of the community."

"Looking forward is an optimistic view," Breslau said. "Some people are feeling optimistic about Owensboro, that Owensboro seems to be on the move. The RiverPark Center, this project and the downtown master plan, they are all very optimistic. This building should be the same."

Trahan said it is personally interesting to him how the Ohio River has carved a deep bend in its course at Owensboro, which may somehow be incorporated into the convention center's design.

From a purely practical standpoint, the design will emerge from an "architectural program" for the building, which defines what it must contain. It will identify spaces and how they should perform and function.

David O'Neal, chairman of Conventional Wisdom Corp., a consulting company that is working with Trahan on strategic planning for the Owensboro project, compared the architectural program to a recipe's list of ingredients. From those ingredients, the architects create a solution which becomes the convention center's ultimate design.

"Having done this before with David, we generally know what the pieces are," Breslau said. "We find our work in general emerges from what makes the building work. The design comes from that."

Some of what the convention center should contain is known. CityVisions of Louisville and ConsultEcon of Boston, consultants advising the city on the project, have recommended a building containing up to 138,350 square feet and featuring a 40,000-square-foot, dividable convention space, four ballrooms totaling 14,000 square feet and a lecture hall with tiered seating. A dramatic "river room" built on the former Showroom Lounge platform that projects over the Ohio River is a key element.

The architectural program will give the designers an early indication of its final cost.

"It allows us to address the budget, size and square footage," Trahan said. "Without designing a thing, we can know what the cost will be."

Spectacular views of the Ohio River from within the convention center is a central goal, the architects said.

U of L chief touts partnership

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Saturday, November 13, 2010 12:02 AM CST

Owensboro start-up companies in life sciences areas such as health care, food service and agriculture will have a greater shot at success with a new partnership between the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and the University of Louisville.

The resources of Nucleus, the Life Science Innovation Center at the University of Louisville, now are available to help in forming and growing more companies that start at The Centre for Business and Research in Owensboro, U of L President James Ramsey and other officials announced Friday.

The Centre, still under development itself at 1010 Allen St., is an incubator for high-tech, life science companies. Companies can rent office and lab space there.

"We want to make it easier for start-up companies to be successful," Ramsey said following a news conference to announce the economic development partnership.

The EDC and U of L will identify opportunities for collaboration. In addition, new companies can harness the buying power of U of L to help control expenses in areas such as health insurance.

Nucleus will provide resources for fledgling, high-tech companies in areas of business planning and information technology.

U of L already has strong ties to Owensboro Medical Health System with a bachelor's degree RN program and ongoing cancer research through the Owensboro Cancer Research Program at the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

The university also is a partner for drug development through Kentucky BioProcessing, a full-scale processing facility that extracts purified proteins and other value added products from plants and other organic materials.

In addition, about 270 students from Daviess County attend U of L.

The new relationship is a logical outcome of both partners' missions, said Vickie Yates-Brown, Nucleus president.

The partners will be able to "commercialize the research" that's already being done, allowing it to "go from the mind to the marketplace," Yates-Brown said.

Since the Bayh-Dole Act of December 1980, universities have become driving forces in economic development, Brake said.

That legislation gave universities and other entities control over their research and intellectual properties. Before that law, ownership of the patents or properties was always questioned.

The top 10 locations on any economic development ranking/index are around large research universities, Brake said.

Without the potential of gaining a research university, Owensboro began looking for partnerships, he said.

"We're thrilled to adopt U of L as our research university," Brake said.

Ramsey called Owensboro "a community that gets it."

Jobs of today are different than jobs of yesterday, and investment in education is necessary to be successful, he said.

The partnership is about positioning the community and the state to grow and prosper.

Owensboro still is seeking manufacturing plants that bring large numbers of jobs, Brake said.

Those companies benefit from tax breaks, while start-up, entrepreneurial companies need different support such as the fastest Internet connections and IT services and ways to control costs.

"It's a whole different model," Ramsey said. "That's what I like about Owensboro. It's here."

Ramsey also made visits to OMHS and several high schools on this trip to Owensboro.

The Centre for Business and Research won't officially open until next spring, but its first tenant, Hollison Technologies, already has moved in. Two more companies are expected to move in by the end of the year, with six established by the official opening.

At least one company already has heard about the new resources U of L is bringing to the Centre and wants to learn more, Brake said.

Brake said the next step for this economic development tool is to finish the facility.