Educated workers fuel manufacturing

Region’s training partnership of employers and educators keeps world-class products flowing

By Abby Laub

in April 2018, Toyota unveiled the newest addition to its successful vehicle lineup when the all-new 2019 Avalon rolled off its production line in Georgetown. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky President Susan Elkington called it the “future of Toyota manufacturing.”

Central Kentucky’s businesses provide the world with such iconic goods as Toyota Camrys, Jif peanut butter, bourbon, Thoroughbreds and cranes as well as a slew of uniquely Bluegrass products like boots, windshields, bourbon balls and soda that keep the economy firing on all cylinders.

A key reason manufacturers choose to make their products in Central Kentucky is its workforce. The Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (better known as KY FAME) was founded in Central Kentucky about a decade ago and now has 11 chapters throughout the state with 125-plus participating companies. The regional chapters work to ensure their manufacturers have a steady supply of skilled workers ready to fill available jobs.

The program has developed into FAME USA with programs in nine states.

Employers collaborate with postsecondary educational institutions to grow their own talent. It all started on Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Georgetown campus, near Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. In conjunction with BCTC, the employer group developed a program through which employees would be paid to attend school to earn associate degrees in advanced manufacturing technology.

Donna Taul, Environmental Health & Safety manager at Florida Tile, Inc. in Lawrenceburg serves as president of FAME’s Bluegrass chapter and said KY FAME has made a difference.

“There has been a shortage of skilled workers especially in the areas of Industrial Maintenance and Tooling the last several years,” she said. “The KY FAME program has created a pipeline of skilled workers at an affordable cost for employers. This allows companies to remain competitive and meet business demands.”

FAME also works to sharpen and improve the skills of current employers.

“It provides the companies with cost-effective solutions to meet growing demands and invest in their workforce at the same time,” Taul said. “Employees in the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program receive on-the-job training, a technical education, critical work ‘soft skills’ and the opportunity for high pay after graduation.”

FAME continues to add specialized programs to meet the skilled labor demands of manufacturers in other areas including engineering and business, she said.

“New technology is creating more positions requiring skilled labor, Taul said. 

One of KY FAME’s founding members, TMMK, continues growing and hiring; in 2016 it celebrated its 30th anniversary, and in 2017 it underwent $1.33 billion in upgrades. Millions of cars, most notably the Toyota Camry, have rolled off its lines. In 2017, Toyota built 1,983,723 vehicles at its North American vehicle assembly plants, including TMMK.

To continue manufacturing all these cars, TMMK is again stepping up to educate future manufacturing workers.

In May 2018, together with Project Lead The Way (PLTW), TMMK awarded $150,000 in grants to 11 K-12 schools in Central Kentucky to help prepare students for the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. The grants, funded by the Toyota USA Foundation, provide a curriculum focused on computer science, engineering, and biomedical science, while helping create engaging, hands-on classrooms for students.

“As an engineer and someone who loves science, creating opportunities for more students to explore STEM education is exciting,” TMMK President Susan Elkington said in a news release. “But there is also an urgent and critical need to get more young people interested in STEM. Investing in programs like Project Lead The Way and developing partnerships with local schools is an important step in preparing Kentucky’s next generation of thinkers and doers for the jobs of the future.”

Last year, PLTW received a $2 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation to support approximately 115 K-12 schools throughout the United States.

And in April TMMK unveiled the newest addition to a strong stable of vehicles at TMMK: the all-new 2019 Avalon, built on its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) manufacturing platform.

Other than TMMK, Central Kentucky hosts a vibrant and diverse scene of manufacturers. These creators benefit from the region’s proximity to prime logistics, available land and a low cost of doing business.

Lockheed Martin, the Maryland-based global security company, employees about 1,100 workers at its Bluegrass Station facility in eastern Fayette County. Trane Lexington, which manufactures air heating and cooling parts and systems, employs about 1,000 workers. Lexington-based Big Ass Solutions, which produces low-energy, high-volume industrial ceiling fans, employs hundreds of workers locally at its plant and research headquarters.

Newcomer on the scene is More Than A Bakery in Woodford County. It opened its $57 million, 250,000-s.f. food production facility last year.

Here are more manufacturing operations in Central Kentucky:


Post-it products, Scotch Tape (Cynthiana)

Ceramic inserts for bullet proof vests (Lexington)

Cynthiana –

Ale-8-One Bottling Co.

Soft drinks

Winchester –

Alltech Inc.

Natural animal feed additives

Nicholasville –

Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.

Beer, bourbon and other spirits

Audio Authority

Media switches

Barrel House Distillery

Moonshine, rum, vodka

Big Ass Solutions

Industrial ceiling fans

Buffalo Trace Distillery


Frankfort –

Bulleit Distilling Co.


Lawrenceburg –

Carhartt Inc.

Work clothing

Irvine –

Caterpillar Inc.

Tractor components

Danville –

Clark Material Handling Co.


Corning Display Technologies

Glass processes & products technology

Harrodsburg –

Country Boy Brewing

Craft beer

Lexington & Georgetown –

Denyo Manufacturing Corp.

High-output diesel generators

Danville –


High-security locking solutions

Florida Tile Inc.

Porcelain & ceramic tile

Lawrenceburg –

Four Roses Distillery


Lawrenceburg –


Dixie Cup cups & plates

Highbridge Spring Water

Bottled water

Wilmore –


Commercial dishwashing equipment

Danville –

International Paper

Corrugated boxes

Jim Beam Brands


Frankfort –

J.M. Smucker Co.

Jif peanut butter

Johnson Controls Inc.

Automotive foam pads

Kinetic Technologies

Animal, human supplements

Laura’s Lean Beef

Natural beef products


Liquid dryers

Richmond –

Link-Belt Construction Equipment Co.

Telescopic & lattice boom cranes

Lockheed Martin

Military operations logistics support

Lore Brewing Co.

Craft beer

Danville –

Lucas Equine Equipment

Stall components, farm gates

Cynthiana –

Mingua Beef Jerky

Paris –

Nacco Materials Handling Group

Lift trucks

Berea –

Neogen Corp.

Food & animal safety products

Old Kentucky Candies

Osram Sylvania

Fluorescent/tungsten halogen lamps

Versailles/Winchester –

Parker Seal

Engineered o-rings

Pittsburgh Glass Works


Berea –

Q-Lighting Inc.

Commercial lighting solutions

Quillin Leather & Tack

Equine halters & equipment

Paris –

Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory

Frankfort –

Red Wing Shoe Co.

Work boots

Danville –


Paperboard folding boxes

Nicholasville –

Rocky Top Log Furniture & Railing

Log furniture & railing

Lancaster –

Rogers Windows


Ruggles Sign Co.

Commercial signage

Versailles –

Sargent & Greenleaf

Security locks

Nicholasville –

Schneider Electric

Square D electrical safety switches

Sharp’s Candies

Lexington –

Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes Corp.

Automotive coatings/finishes

Richmond –

Tiffany & Co.

Luxury jewelry

Tokico Inc.

Brake & suspension systems

Berea –

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky

Automobiles, engines

Georgetown –

Trane Commercial Systems

Air systems

Trim Masters Inc.

Automotive interior trim





Intraocular lenses

Vermont Castings Group

Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves

Paris –

Wausau Paper

Paper towels & tissues

Harrodsburg –

Webasto Roof Systems Inc.

Automotive sunroofs

Weisenberger Mills

Baking products

Midway –

West Sixth Brewing Co.

Craft beer

Wild Turkey Distillery


Lawrenceburg –

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Versailles –