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Made in Louisville: Building on manufacturing tradition

Strong workforce and industry networks keep manufacturing companies investing in Louisville

By Jeff McDanald

From Big Red soda and disco balls to Reynolds Wrap, GE Appliances and Ford Super Duty trucks, the Greater Louisville area has always enjoyed a rich manufacturing tradition of excellence. The tradition continues to evolve as old-line manufacturing makes way for a new era of emerging technologies.

Manufacturing plays a significant role in the Greater Louisville economy, engaging 12% of the total employment and representing 16.5% of the local gross domestic product – significantly more than the 11.2% national average. Louisville’s diversified manufacturing economy features 1,400 companies from a variety of industries, including automotive, home and appliance, machining, chemicals and engineering. Manufacturing thrives in the region, thanks to innovations in additive manufacturing, focused workforce development initiatives, strong industry networks and a central location.

Greater Louisville is within a one-day drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population, and with the UPS WorldPort air hub, businesses can get products to almost anywhere in the world overnight. Yet a highly desirable location is just one of the many factors that inspires manufacturers to make their home here.

Louisville Forward, the economic development arm of Louisville Metro Government, works hard to ensure that corporate executives and site selectors find and enjoy a healthy business climate.

Eberspaecher North America is investing $30 million in a new facility in Louisville.

“This year we’ve already had 10 manufacturers choose to expand or locate a new operation in Louisville,” said Alex Mercer, economic development manager for advanced manufacturing logistics for Louisville Forward. “Manufacturing is booming back after a difficult 2020.”

The auto supplier Eberspaecher North America is among the companies putting down roots. In March 2021, the Germany-based developer and supplier of exhaust technology, thermal management systems and automotive electronics announced that it is investing more than $30 million to establish a new plant in Louisville, creating 214 jobs.

Eberspaecher will occupy over 125,000 s.f. of an existing 314,400-s.f. facility on the Greenbelt Highway in the Louisville Riverport to serve its expanded customer base in the U.S. The company partners with automotive manufacturers around the world and focuses on innovative products for passenger cars and commercial vehicles to improve air quality and sustainably lower traffic noise.

With the automotive industry facing an ongoing semiconductor supply shortage, Louisville Forward again showed it is ready to lend a hand with its resources to two of the region’s automotive behemoths.

The 180-acre Louisville Assembly Plant is located south of the airport where 4,100 employees make Ford Escapes and Lincoln Corsairs. The 500-acre Kentucky Truck Plant is located in the northeast corner of the city, where 8,920 employees make Ford F-250 and F-550 Super Duty trucks, Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators.

“We’re helping the local plants on a number of things,” Mercer said. “We just had a call with them a couple of weeks ago about trying to find some vacant lots for them to park their cars.”

The newly manufactured vehicles are complete except for the semiconductors that they’re having trouble sourcing from their suppliers around the world.

“Once they get their semiconductors, then they’ll be able to be sold down to the dealers,” Mercer said. “We have some pretty cool real estate software where we can search for vacant properties that Ford might not have access to.”

The logistics of attracting a semi-conductor manufacturer to the Louisville area is also being explored as a solution.

“These are companies that most likely are going to get some sort of federal funding, so let’s try to go after these companies and try to make a business case for these kind of operations that are typically high-paying, high-investment type roles,” Mercer said.

GE Appliances’ largest North American site has been producing washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators in Louisville since 1953. The Appliance Park employs 6,600 on its 1,000-acre site.

The company also owns FirstBuild, an offshoot microfactory on the University of Louisville campus.

“This is where GE is outsourcing a bit of their research and development for smaller, more niche products,” Mercer said. “You might know the Opal Nugget ice maker that can sit on your countertop in your kitchen.”

The Opal Nugget ice maker was designed by the cocreate community at GE Appliances’ FirstBuild microfactory.

The cadre of manufacturers being welcomed to the Greater Louisville area within the past year either as relocations or expansions includes HANDLE Global, which develops, sells and implements technology in support of the health-care equipment supply chain.

Louisville-based HANDLE is expanding in Jefferson County with a $7.8 million investment toward additional warehousing and 80 high-paying jobs across its distribution and headquarters operations.

The HVAC industry is riding a wave of home renovations and remodels. In response, the Kentuckiana Curb Co., a Kentucky-based company providing HVAC engineering services for various industries, is making a $60 million investment to establish a new 380,000-s.f. location in Shelby County where 700 employees will work.

Wieland North America, a producer of copper and copper alloy products, has opened a new headquarters in Louisville. The Germany-based company is investing $8.8 million and creating 75 jobs. Their products are used in a variety of industries, including building and construction, munitions, automotive, coinage and electronics components.

Canada-based Kruger Packaging is investing $114.2 million to build a new 400,000-s.f. plant at the T.J. Patterson Industrial Park in Elizabethtown. The state-of-the-art packaging operation will make corrugated boxes for the food and beverage sector and will employ 150.

Other notable plant expansion projects in Louisville in the last 12 months include a $62 million expansion at GE Appliance Park, $3.5 million project at plastic bottle maker Berry Global, and $3.2 million investment at Atkore Plastic Pipe.

Workforce attracts business

Kentucky would not be the manufacturing and logistics powerhouse it is without a vibrant workforce.

To keep pace with workforce demand for the skilled trades and foundational jobs of the future, the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has joined with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) to shine a light on students graduating from advanced manufacturing programs and the companies that hire them.

This year, KCTCS had nearly 3,000 manufacturing grads and 435 business partners across Kentucky. Students graduated from manufacturing-related programs like industrial maintenance, computerized machining and manufacturing, welding technology, engineering and electronics technology, electrical technology and computer-assisted drafting.

According to a 2020 wage and benefits survey from KAM, the overall weighted hourly wage for the participating companies was $23.52 – nearly $49,000 a year.

The Greater Louisville region’s manufacturers produce many different products. Here are a few of them:

Adam Matthews
Cheesecakes, Kentucky Woods Bourbon Barrel Cake

Airguard (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Air filtration products

Akebone Brake Corp. (Elizabethtown)

Algood Food Co.
Peanut butter

Alliance Entertainment (Shepherdsville)
Markets and distributes family entertainment DVDs

American Bottling Co.
Dr. Pepper, Snapple, beverage bottling

American Fuji Seal (Bardstown)
Plastic labels

BAE Systems
Defense systems

Balfour Co.
School graduation products

Berry Global
Plastic bottles

Bowles Mattress Co. (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Lady Americana mattresses

Caudill Seed and Warehouse Co.
Seed-diversified agricultural production, manufacturing and distribution

ConAgra Brands
Ready-to-bake food mixes, frozen breakfast products

Discount Labels Inc. (New Albany, Ind.)
Custom-printed pressure-sensitive labels

Salsa, marinades, dressings, syrups, etc.

Flowers Foods (Bardstown)
Packaged bakery foods

Freudenberg Medical (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Medical devices

GE Appliance Park
Major household appliances

General Mills (New Albany, Ind.)
Pillsbury refrigerated dough

General Rubber & Plastics
Plastics products

Haas Cabinet Co. (Sellersburg, Ind.)
Kitchen cabinets

H&H Metal Products (Charlestown, Ind.)
Metal roofing & siding products

Hillerich & Bradsby Co. (Louisville Slugger)
Baseball, softball bats, bionic gloves and museum tours

John Conti
Specialty coffee and tea

Kellogg Snacks
Cookie products

Kentucky Truck Plant
Super Duty pick-up trucks, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator

Kerns Kitchen
Derby pie and cheesecakes

Kitchen Kompact (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Kitchen/bath cabinets

Koligo Therapeutics
Develops, manufactures, commercializes transformative cell therapies for pancreatic diseases

Louisville Assembly Plant
Ford Escape, Lincoln MKC

Louisville Bedding
Bedding manufacturer

Mesa Foods
Mexican food products

Mouser Custom Cabinetry (Elizabethtown)
Zebrawood cabinets

Nationwide Uniform Corp. (Hodgenville)
Security/police/postal uniforms

Nutrien Ag Solutions (Shelbyville)
Fertilizer blending, farm seed & chemicals

Omega National Products
Mirror globes (disco balls), flexible mirrors

ORBIS Corp. (Bardstown)
Collapsible plastic containers

POSCO AAPC (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Automotive parts

Precision Metal Works
Sheet metal stamping; major appliance assembly

Purnell Old Folks Sausage (Simpsonville)
Sausage products, biscuit sandwiches

Raytheon Co.
Defense weapons systems

Restonic (New Albany, Ind.)
Restonic mattresses

Kitchen and bath convenience products; organizers

Reynolds Consumer Products
Aluminum foil

Saint-Gobain Quartz USA
Manufactures and distributes quartz fibers for the aerospace industry

Samtec Inc. (New Albany, Ind.)
Cables, connectors and electronic parts

Siemens Industry
Railroad products

Speyside Cooperage (Shepherdsville)
Refurbished bourbon barrels

Spinal Systems
Specialty back braces; orthopedic braces

Stanley Black & Decker (Shelbyville)
Professional power tools

The Perfumery Inc. (New Albany, Ind.)
Essential oils

Toyota Boshoku Kentucky (Bardstown)
Automotive door trim and interior parts

Tyson Foods Inc. (Corydon, Ind.)
Poultry deli products

Webb Butcher Block (Payneville, Meade County)
Jerky, summer sausages, salamis

Welbilt Kitchen Care, (Jeffersonville, Ind.)
Food service equipment

White Castle Distributing
Frozen hamburger processing

Specialty chemicals