• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Local manufacturing economy becoming more diverse

RUGGLES SIGN COMPANY relocated its family-owned business to a renovated manufacturing building formerly occupied by Kuhlman Electric, which closed its Versailles plant in 2009. (File photo by Bob Vlach)

Industrial businesses manufacture a variety of products, including fluorescent lamps, automobile parts, signs and books in Woodford County. Products made here are being shipped across Kentucky and the country, and in some cases around the world. "It's good to have different types of businesses and industries here," said Woodford County Judge-Executive John Coyle. He likened the industrial diversity to what's happening in agriculture, where local farmers have continued to diversify their operations away from tobacco production. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket. And we've done that here," Coyle said. Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift agrees. "I just think it's important to diversify your economy," he said. Local leaders point to several factors that continue to nurture a diversified industrial sector in Woodford County's economy. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said the local public school system - a quality-of-life factor - was "probably the biggest draw" for More Than a Bakery coming here and adding 310 future jobs to the local economy. Lakeshore Learning Materials - an educational supplies distribution company locating at Midway Station and adding another 262 jobs - "just fell in love with Midway," said Vandegrift. He said the president of that company told him that Midway was a community "we can be a part of." Traugott and other leaders describe industrial diversity as a way to insulate the local economy from economic downturns in one sector, such as automobile manufacturing. When American Howa Kentucky (AHK) begins operations at Midway Station - creating 47 more jobs, Woodford County will have four companies supplying parts to the auto industry. "We would certainly be impacted (by a downturn in the auto industry) as well," acknowledged Traugott. "We're just spreading that risk out a little bit." Vandegrift said a diversified local economy helps make "it easier to weather the storms of recession." He described Lakeshore Learning Materials as being "almost recession proof because so much of their ... income comes from public schools ... And even during recessions, we don't stop spending money on schools. So it's good to have some diversity there" in the industrial sector of the economy. "We want diversity (in our manufacturing and industrial businesses), but we also want to be able to capitalize on what falls in our lap," said Traugott. He said Versailles now needs to replenish its supply of land zoned for industrial purposes when opportunity comes calling. "It's critical for us to always have some industrial land (in order) to have our community in the game" of attracting new manufacturing companies to Versailles, said John Soper, chair of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority board. Besides being able to attract new industry, local leaders have stayed focused on retaining companies that have been here for decades or more. LEDVANCE (formerly known as OSRAM Sylvania), which came to Versailles in 1964, now employs nearly 600 workers at its two local plants. Quad Graphics came here in 1962 (as Rand McNally) and now employs 500 workers. Both of those companies and Yokohama Industries Americas, Inc., which came here in 1989, are planning to expand their operations here and employ more workers. Their payroll taxes help bolster local tax revenue, which Coyle said allows county and city governments to pay for police and fire protection, as well as the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center. With the tax revenue generated from Lakeshore Learning Materials, AHK and future industry locating at Midway Station, "We'll be able to pave more roads, fix more sidewalks, improve more services, (and) beautify our city more...," Vandegrift said. Without payroll taxes coming from the future employees at Lakeshore and AHK, Midway's mayor said his city may have been facing some very tough economic times in the coming decades. "If we didn't locate some good-paying jobs here and increase our revenues, you've got to wonder if the city would remain solvent in the next 10 to 20 years," Vandegrift said. Traugott was not serving Versailles as its mayor or as a councilman, and had not been appointed to the Planning Commission when Kuhlman Electric closed its doors in 2009. He does remember how that shutdown affected local people, including his dad. The paychecks that his dad earned at Kuhlman over 30-plus years helped "pay (for) my upbringing," said Traugott. "From my personal experience, there's a human impact to (retaining manufacturing companies), he added. "These are mothers and fathers that would potentially lose their jobs. So we do everything that we can to ensure our manufacturers are happy and growing, and, hopefully, expanding." His personal connection to the former Kuhlman Electric building made him especially pleased when Ruggles Sign Company relocated its family-owned business to that manufacturing facility several years ago. As chair of Bluegrass Area Development District's economic development committee, Traugott has come to appreciate the value of having a skilled workforce to help attract and retain businesses. He described next Tuesday's "Industry Day" as a good first step in educating high school students so they understand "it's not your grandfather's manufacturing." Soper said most manufacturing jobs in this economy are more highly-skilled. "It's not standing on a line and putting on a widget all day long. It's something different today," he explained.

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