By Jack Mazurak, Communications Director for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently posed this question to members of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers:
“If I were to ask if you wanted to engineer and manufacture something to the highest degree of excellence in continental Europe, what country would you like to start in?”
“Germany,” he said. “It’s the only answer I’ve ever heard. It’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
“And yet, if I were to ask you the same question of where in the United States you would go if you wanted something engineered and manufactured to the highest degree of excellence, there would in this room be five, 10, 15 different answers that would instinctively come to people’s minds.”
There stands the opening to establish Kentucky as an engineering and manufacturing hub of excellence in North America.
“There is no immediately instinctive, number one answer that comes to everybody’s minds. Why is that? Because nobody owns it,” he said. “Well guess what? We’re going to own it.”
Already rich with resources, Kentucky offers a prime location within 600 miles of two-thirds of the U.S. population and income, a logistics industry that includes three hubs owned by some of the world’s largest shippers, and nearly 4,500 manufacturers currently employing 250,000 people full-time.
The Commonwealth received “A” grades for both manufacturing industry health and logistics industry health in the Conexus 2016 Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card for the U.S.
Numerous efforts by government, industry and education leaders are propelling Kentucky toward the Governor’s goal. Methods include apprenticeship programs, which give students education and experience at established manufacturing plants, engineering schools at major universities, extensive resources and programs for entrepreneurs and startups.
In 2016, hundreds of investments by new and existing companies in Kentucky were announced. They represent a broad range, including: automotive suppliers; chemical, rubber and plastics makers; aerospace companies; appliance R&D; as well as tech and professional-service companies.
The state also boasts a robust and growing support industry, including businesses that design, engineer and build the complex robotic and material-handling systems that manufacturers and distributors require.
Among advanced manufacturers, Hansens Aluminum (a South African supplier for the automotive industry), announced it will build an $18.4 million manufacturing facility in Henderson, KY to produce a variety of extruded aluminum components. The company plans to install a highly-specialized aluminum extrusion press, custom built in Europe.
On the research and design front, global appliance maker Midea America broke ground last August on a $10 million R&D center in Louisville. The Midea America Research Center will provide technical expertise in developing home appliance products for the U.S. market.
The aerospace industry is growing in the state because of the work of companies such as Space Tango, which recently sent a device to the International Space Station to enable the company to contract with scientific researchers and run small-scale experiments in microgravity conditions.
Belcan maintains its Advanced Engineering and Technology Division in Lexington and 2016 saw the announcement of an expansion at Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems in Danville and a groundbreaking for an $100 million-plus addition at Safran Landing Systems in Northern Kentucky. The investment is expected to increase production capacity for carbon brakes to meet expected airline demand.
Tech, Biotech and Pharma
Another innovative company, nanoRanch, moved from Texas to Lexington in 2016. Its wide variety of projects includes development of products for continuous monitoring of mercury emissions from coal power plants.
Pharmaceutical producer Catalent Pharma Solutions has expanded its Kentucky manufacturing and distribution operations multiple times. It is a leading global manufacturer of advanced drug-delivery technologies and development of tablets, capsules and powders. Along the same lines, Piramal Pharma Solutions continues to expand its manufacturing injectable pharmaceuticals in Lexington.
Automotive Continues Rolling
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s strength in automotive engineering and manufacturing continues to accelerate. The Commonwealth is already home to two Ford assembly plants, General Motors’ Bowling Green Assembly plant (which makes the world’s supply of Corvettes), and Toyota’s North American flagship plant in Georgetown. All four assembly plants have received significant reinvestments in the past couple years as the automakers add jobs and prepare to launch production of new models.
Supporting those plants and many others across the Midwest and South are more than 500 automotive-related suppliers. Among the thirty-plus expansions and new locations announced by auto suppliers in 2016 was a new plant by Thailand’s industrial giant Thai Summit. The $110 million facility will create 216 jobs and produce stamped and welded aluminum assemblies in Bardstown for Ford.
India’s Rane (Madras) Ltd. purchased an aluminum die casting plant in western Kentucky. Following a $5.8 million upgrade, the 170-job plant will produce compressor components for other automotive supplier companies.
Automotive interior vent and trim systems producer Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems cut a ribbon on its plant expansion last June – only two years following the plant’s initial opening. The company’s high-tech equipment and rigid quality control have earned it supplier status with automakers including Bentley, Lamborghini, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford and Volkswagen.
Engineering and Manufacturing Support
A growing number of businesses and resources give Kentucky-based companies and facilities technological edge that improves manufacturing quality, speed and connectivity.
The Institute for Product Realization at the University of Louisville brings together three basic units – Manufacturing Pilot and Launch Pad; Microfactory and Co-Creation; and Technical Research. While helping turn research and ideas into physical, marketable products, it gives young companies access to the technical resources of major global players. In addition, it helps the next generation of students learn.
The Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Kentucky focuses on commercializing UK research, facilitating university-industry collaborations, and assisting entrepreneurs and small businesses in creating jobs.
MakeTime Inc. is an innovative startup growing rapidly in Lexington. It connects manufacturers with idle CNC machine time to clients needing products manufactured. IGear in Louisville recently released Squeaks, a software system that networks industrial machines and employees to quickly disseminate alerts to the right targets.
HAHN Automation just expanded in Northern Kentucky. For automotive, household goods and pharmaceuticals industries, the company provides engineering, design and manufacturing of industrial automation systems. Those range from simple manual work stations to sophisticated, fully-automated assembly and inspection lines. Meredith Machinery also recently announced an expansion. It designs, engineers and installs automated metal cutting systems for manufacturers.
Workforce and Education
To ensure a pipeline of skilled employees for Kentucky’s engineering and manufacturing companies, the state is undergoing a workforce revolution.
The highlight of 2016 was the creation of the state’s new Work Ready Skills Initiative, a collaborative program backed by a $100 million state bond fund to involve private employers, higher-education institutions, high schools, technical schools and community, regional and state development organizations in training the state’s workforce. The Work Ready Skills Initiative committee is scheduled in early 2017 to announce the approved entries from a pool of more than 100 that will receive funding.
In addition, with a new statewide focus on apprenticeships and a combination work-study program aimed at students interested in manufacturing, Kentucky is poised to offer employers the most skilled and trained workforce in America.
Building Toward Bigger Goals
In concluding his message to the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Governor Bevin set the state’s sights on excellence in all areas, but especially in the engineering and manufacturing fields.
“If we play our cards right, and it is my intent that we will do so to the best of my ability and that of our cabinet officials and the economic development folks and others, that we are going to ensure that Kentucky will become the engineering and manufacturing hub of excellence in North America. Bar none,” Governor Bevin said. “That anybody who wants to manufacture something in the United States in particular, and in North America more broadly, would say, ‘Well, we certainly have got to look at Kentucky.’”
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