MADE IN LOUISVILLE
If you want to make something efficiently and then ship it anywhere in the world at Triple Crown-winning speed, Louisville is the place for you.
Kentucky’s largest city has established itself as the sweet spot for manufacturing in the commonwealth, where Louisville and the surrounding region can crank out Ford F-250s, air conditioners, refrigerators, chili powder, craft beer, barbecue sauce, disco balls, cookies, aluminum foil and hundreds of other products at a pace that even Henry Ford couldn’t have imagined when he introduced the assembly line to American workers.
In a state where there are some 260,000 manufacturing jobs, more than 30% of them – right around 84,000 jobs – are located inside a region dominated by Louisville and Jefferson County. More than 1,400 manufacturers are located there.
Some $39 billion worth of products, which is nearly 19% of what it calls the “gross state product,” is created by manufacturers who employ about 13% of Kentucky’s nonfarm workforce, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, the Washington, D.C., trade group that represents the interests of manufacturers.
Louisville has a rich manufacturing tradition that provides the foundation for global leadership in a new era of flexible, advanced manufacturing. In 2017, Forbes magazine named Louisville the No. 1 city in the U.S. for manufacturing.
Over the last decade, the number of advanced manufacturing jobs in and around Louisville has skyrocketed by 68%, according to Sarah Ehresman, director of labor market intelligence for KentuckianaWorks, which is headquartered in Louisville and matches employers and job seekers in seven Kentucky counties and six located across the Ohio River in southern Indiana.
While that number might sound amazingly high, it’s even more impressive when compared to “peer cities” that Louisville competes with. Jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector increased by 58% in Nashville, 20% in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and 17% in Memphis, Ehresman said.
At midyear, as Louisville and the rest of the state and country grappled with COVID-19 and its impact, those job numbers declined a bit but the level of damage has yet to be determined.
The duration of the downturn was one of the huge uncertainties facing the manufacturing sector. Even the definition of “advanced manufacturing” is somewhat unclear. The National Council for Advanced Manufacturing trade group says the critical characteristics are “… innovative technologies, mass production efficiencies, high performance workers and flexible manufacturing processes.”
As might be expected, technological advances don’t routinely translate into job growth.
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“But from the big picture perspective … the manufacturing sector is not expected to add a lot of jobs even if manufacturing happens to grow, and that’s because we just keep getting more and more efficient all the time, so manufacturing output has been growing for multiple decades even as manufacturing employment has been going down,” said Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks.
One of the most significant recent investments in Louisville was made by one of the city’s largest employers, Ford Motor Co., which announced in August 2019 that it would spend $550 million on its two Louisville plants. Most of that money was earmarked for retooling and upgrading the Louisville Assembly Plant, where the Ford Escape and the Lincoln Corsair SUV are made. LAP employs approximately 4,100 people.
The company also has more than 8,900 employees at its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, where it makes the F-250 and F-550 trucks, the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.
Early in 2020, the company whose name is synonymous with manufacturing breakthroughs announced that it had acquired the first two Digit robots from Agility Robotics. Ford’s Digit robots are designed with arms and legs to work with humans in human spaces, Ford said in a press release.
Within a month of the Ford announcement, another major player in the Louisville economy, UPS, announced that it was investing $750 million in its Worldport, a package sorting facility where mind-boggling technology allows the company to sort and ship 2 million packages in an average day.
It is no coincidence that major manufacturers and logistics giants like UPS and Amazon are working, at least figuratively, side-by-side in and near Louisville, according to John T. Launius, acting vice president for regional economic development for Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), the Chamber of Commerce for the metro region.
“The recent UPS expansion announcement came late in the year (2019) – a $750 million expansion, 1,000 new jobs and 50 new planes in the fleet,” Launius said. “We’re the Wall Street of logistics. It’s hard to pick up Wall Street and put it somewhere else. It would be very hard, I think, to compete with the Greater Louisville’s logistics advantage,” said Launius, pointing out that the billion-dollar-plus investments by DHL and Amazon in Northern Kentucky extend “Wall Street” about 80 miles to the east.
“The investment affirms that UPS is happy here and that is …a huge advantage to anyone who does business in the region,” Launius said.
Still another major contributor to the Louisville economy, GE Appliances, is the driving force behind FirstBuild, a kind of incubator for new appliance ideas that has created 15 products that are already on the shelves. FirstBuild describes itself as a “global co-creation community” that has a prominent presence in Louisville, where GE has been making appliances since 1953 and currently has about 6,000 employees, according to GLI data. It is dedicated to designing, engineering, building and selling the next generation of major home appliances and providing a platform for manufacturing entrepreneurship.
KCC Companies, which includes the Kentuckiana Curb Co., has plans to spend some $55 million on a new headquarters and plant in Louisville, where the company makes and services air conditioners and manufactures the hardware for roof-mounted air conditioners, skylights and fans with a blend of traditional and high-tech processes.
“We’re cutting steel and welding steel,” said Joel W. Strieter, an engineer who is president of KCC International. “We are using the latest sheet metal technology.”
KCC was founded in Louisville in 1977 and now has more than 500 employees in Louisville, Lexington and Utah. The manufacturing process at KCC incorporates 11 fiber optic lasers as well as advanced automation for some tasks, said Strieter.
Gritton, of KentuckianaWorks, said finding people to fill high-tech/advanced manufacturing jobs can sometimes be a challenge for factories that are trying to drive home the point that manufacturing today is neither dirty nor dangerous.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, when the unemployment rate was low, rising wages at Amazon and other companies narrowed the wage gap between warehouse and distribution work and an entry-level job in manufacturing, which traditionally paid better, Gritton said.
Retaining employees also can be difficult.
“With a tight labor market, a lot of companies have had a challenge to keep their employees,” said Cindy Read, deputy director of KentuckianaWorks. “There has been quite a focus on retention. They want to keep the people they have because of the cost of constant turnover and hiring and at least some of them (local manufacturers) report that they have improved retention.”
A program called KYFAME – Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education – at Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) and elsewhere in the state has helped produce a workforce that knows quite a bit about 21st-century manufacturing.
“They (employers) have a pipeline now coming from JCTC that is really an apprenticeship model where they work part time at the company, they do their classes and then they are trained and ready to step in and get a very good salary,” Read said.
That pipeline is expected to operate even more efficiently in the fall with the completion of the $24 million Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology center (called the AMIT Center) in downtown Louisville, a 50,000-s.f., state-of-the-art training facility that will provide learning space for technical programs.
“It’s going to be a huge, huge deal and the manufacturing companies advocated very strongly with the … college to get the funding from the state. They also had to raise some private funds for the project,” Gritton said.
The University of Louisville also plays a role. It provides local companies access to world-class research and development facilities that used to be available only to the largest global companies. The university’s research and assets support manufacturing and materials innovations through its Rapid Prototyping Center, Micro-Nano Technology Center, Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, Additive Manufacturing Competency Center and Cardiovascular Innovation Institute.
Made in Louisville
The Greater Louisville region’s manufacturers produce tons of different products, from disco balls and Reynolds Wrap to Louisville Slugger bats and Ford trucks – and much more.
Edible oils & shortening
Algood Food Co.
American Bluegrass Marble
Man-made marble, tubs, vanities, countertops, etc.
American Bottling Co.
Dr. Pepper, Snapple, beverage bottling
American Printing House for the Blind
Braille & large-type book printing
American Synthetic Rubber Co.
Reprocessed & synthetic rubber
School graduation products
Bemis Flexible Packaging, Shelbyville
Packaging for food industry
Bloemer Food Sales
Chili powder, barbecue sauce
Bourbon whiskey barrels
Distilled spirits headquarters
On-demand digital printing
Steel water tanks, towers
Aluminum extrusions, moldings
Lubricant blending, distribution
Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Ready-to-bake food mixes; frozen breakfast products
Copper and Kings American Brandy Co.
Brandy, other alcoholic products
Dant Clayton Corp.
Grandstands, bleachers, seating
Dawn Food Products
Pie filling, icing, doughnut glazes
Diaego Americas Supply, Shelbyville
Bourbon manufacturing and distribution
Faurecia Emission Control Technology
Auto exhaust systems
Faurecia Interiors, Simpsonville
Interior automotive systems
Salsa, marinades, dressings, syrups, etc.
Ford Motor Co. (KTP & LAP)
Super Duty Trucks, F-250, F-550, Expedition,
GE Appliance Park
Major household appliances
Grupo Antolin Kentucky
Automotive interior components
Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bardstown
Whiskey & distilled spirits
Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (Louisville Slugger)
Baseball/softball bats, museum
Home City Ice
Water purifying equipment
Johnan America, Bardstown
Automotive products (door/window)
Specialty coffee & tea
Kentuckiana Curb Co.
Metal components, HVAC units
Kentucky Trailer Manufacturing
Derby pie & cheesecakes
Koch Filter Corp.
Air filters, bags, cartridges
Mexican food products
Assembled metallic auto products
Nationwide Uniform Corp., Hodgenville
NHK Spring Precision of America
Precision automotive springs
Nutrien Ag Solutions, Shelbyville
Fertilizer blending, farm seed & chemicals
Omega National Products
Mirror globes (disco balls), flexible mirrors
Corrugated packaging, boxes
Paradise Tomato Kitchen
Customized tomato products for foodservice
Precision Metal Works
Sheet metal stamping; major appliance assembly
Packaging supplies, corrugated boxes
Purnell’s “Old Folks” Sausage, Simpsonville
Ready-mixed bagged concrete
Defense weapons systems
Kitchen & bath convenience products; organizers
Reynolds Consumer Products
Roll Forming Corp., Shelbyville
Roll formed products (auto/aerospace)
Sazerac Distillers, Bardstown
Whiskey distillation, processing, bottling
Specialty back braces; orthopedic braces
Stanley Black & Decker, Shelbyville
Professional power tools
The Lyons Companies
Metal fabricating, store fixtures
Toyota Boshoku Kentucky, Bardstown
Automotive door trim, interior parts
White Castle Distributing
Frozen hamburger processing
Yanfeng Automotive Interiors
Injection molded plastic auto parts
Electric & sewage pumps
Air filtration products
Bowles Mattress Co., Jeffersonville
Lady Americana mattresses
Brinly-Hardy Co., Jeffersonville
Discount Labels Inc., New Albany
Custom-printed pressure-sensitive labels
H&H Metal Products, Charlestown
Metal roofing & siding products
Freudenberg Medical, Jeffersonville
General Mills, New Albany
Pillsbury refrigerated dough
Integrity Sign Solutions, New Albany
Retail signage products
Haas Cabinet Co. (Sellersburg)
Kitchen Kompact, Jeffersonville
POSCO AAPC, Jeffersonville
Restonic, New Albany
Samtec Inc., New Albany
Cables, connectors & electronic parts
The Perfumery Inc., New Albany
Tyson Foods Inc., Corydon
Poultry deli products
Welbilt Kitchen Care, Jeffersonville
Food service equipment