The automotive industry has not only completed its recovery from the Great Recession, but also broke light vehicle sales records in 2015. With this growth, communities in the Lincoln Trail region and across the Commonwealth are positioned to realize even greater opportunities.
Our region has played a significant role in Kentucky’s automotive industry for decades. Most of the eight counties of our region are home to an automotive supplier and, in recent years, we’ve welcomed a number of new companies and celebrated multiple expansions.
Automotive-related facilities located in the Lincoln Trail region have grown to employ nearly 9,000 workers, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.
At these facilities, our workforce is building everything from vehicle frames, suspension housings and brakes to interior panels, sunroof components and seat trim, supplying the outstanding brands built right here in Kentucky and around the world.
“People may think Kentucky’s automotive suppliers exist to supply Ford in Louisville, or Toyota in Georgetown or GM in Bowling Green, but the reality is we play a very significant role in the global automotive market,” said Dave Tatman, executive director of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association (KAIA).
“Not only do we forecast continued growth in the North American industry, but also significant growth in the global industry,” he said. “That presents tremendous opportunity for Kentucky.”
Increased demand for products built in the Lincoln Trail region, of course, means new career opportunities. Additionally, automotive related businesses are seeking new talent to replace retiring workers.
As Tatman notes, with the exception of Ford’s generations-long presence in the Commonwealth, our automotive industry is about 35 years old, and many of those who started automotive careers in the ’80s are nearing retirement.
As an economic development professional and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, which oversees the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail (KCC-LT), I’m excited about and proud of our region’s role in this growing industry sector.
In Nelson County, multiple companies have enjoyed recent growth, including Tower Automotive, Johnan America and American Mitsuba. Elsewhere in the region, companies including INOAC and Toyotomi America in Springfield and AGC, Altec and Metalsa, in Elizabethtown recently have worked with KCC-LT to find the talent they need.
To grow the high paying jobs we want for Central Kentuckians, it is critical that we further develop a talent pipeline that meets business’ needs. As advanced manufacturing places a higher demand on technical skills, problem solving, the ability to thrive in a collaborative setting and similar aptitudes, our workforce must maintain and grow its competitive advantage.
One way we’re doing this is through Kentucky’s Work Ready Communities program. Several of the counties in our region have been certified Work Ready or Work Ready in Progress, meeting some of the most rigorous and comprehensive criteria of any Work Ready program in the United States.
Work Ready certification assures employers that a local workforce has the skills to meet existing and emerging needs. It also illustrates that all community leaders have come together to invest in the local workforce.
In the same spirit, community leaders, industries and educators across our region are working hard to develop the customized training programs that meet the needs our industries.
One such business-led initiative is the nationally recognized apprenticeship-style training program Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing (KYFAME). Many of the program’s employer partners are automotive manufacturers. In fact, according to KYFAME, the program grew from a partnership of Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Toyota, which needed to start replacing retirees at its Georgetown Plant.
In addition, Kentucky legislators announced the state’s first Automotive Caucus earlier this month. This bipartisan group will work with automotive manufacturers and the KAIA on workforce training, tax policies, technology development and more.
These collaborative initiatives help ensure the future success of the automotive industry and prosperity of our communities. And with all our region offers, I have no doubt employers and employees in the Lincoln Trail region will continue to play a significant role in that success.
Kim Huston is president of Nelson County Economic Development Agency and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. She can be reached at (502) 348-6402 or email@example.com.