In fact, according to the most recent numbers from Greater Louisville Inc., the city now has 9,916 open jobs waiting to be filled – many in burgeoning new sectors like logistics, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, technology and the food industries.
They’re not the only ones reporting opportunities ahead. PNC Bank just declared the Louisville and Lexington markets “on fire” in its latest “Louisville Lexington Market Outlook,” saying the area is 5 percent above its pre-recession peak, compared to 2.5 percent nationally, with the area showing big gains in the professional education, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Median household incomes have risen by about $1,000 in 2015, the report said, to $53,000 as the labor market has tightened to a 4.3 percent unemployment rate in 2015, down from 5.6 percent in 2014.
And this is just the beginning. According to Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, from January to December 2015, companies in the Louisville area (excluding Southern Indiana) made more than $2.3 billion in capital investments, which will result in an additional 7,000 jobs coming soon. Economic development officials expect net investments and employment growth to continue when Humana’s sale to Aetna is completed and UPS completes its expansion of its package sorting facility, among many other projects.
But the big question remains: Does Louisville have the available workforce to fill those jobs?
Building it, so they will come
Deanna Epperly-Karem, GLI’s vice president for regional growth, said building the well-educated, experienced workforce growing companies need will be one of the organization’s biggest challenges in coming years, and one it is determined to address.
“Right now as we speak, there are 8,800 professional jobs open in Louisville that require an associate’s degree or higher, not counting skilled labor jobs. Companies are expanding, baby boomers are starting to retire … yet we have not had the influx of people we need to fill those jobs. Our population growth has been small, at best,” Epperly-Karem said. “We need to look at all the options to get companies the right employees, at the right time, if we want to have an environment where companies can stay and grow in Louisville.”
In fact, the Louisville area’s population growth is on the upswing, with population expanding by 2.8 percent since 2010, but much of it happening in surrounding peripheral areas like Jeffersontown, Oldham County and the like, with Jefferson County staying flat. This puts Louisville on the low end of the range with its competitor cities.
During the same period, Cincinnati grew 1.6 percent, Indianapolis 4.4 percent, Columbus 4.9 percent, Oklahoma City 6.7 percent, Charlotte 7.4 percent and Nashville 7.3 percent, respectively. With an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, (just below the national rate of 5.5 percent), the issue is not whether there are enough people in Louisville to fill the positions. The issue is whether Louisville has the people with the right training to take the positions, or whether Louisville can attract the right people into the market to fill them.
The secret to doing that, Epperly-Karem said, is to attack each potential market with specialized strategies – an effort that is key to her new position at Greater Louisville Inc.
“Our goal is to speed up growth and hiring, but to do that you can’t just have one overall effort,” Epperly-Karem said. “We have to address all the different ways qualified people could come to those open positions. There are the people already at expanding companies who can learn on-the-job for new roles. There’s qualified people we need to attract from nearby states, and also international candidates with specialized skills.
“Then there are the college students. We need to convince college students from the best universities to settle here, but we also need to convince college students already going to school in Kentucky that starting their careers in Louisville is the thing to do.”
These next few months, Epperly-Karem said, are being devoted to gathering community input and finishing a comprehensive, multiyear plan that will tackle the talent-attraction challenge head on. Meanwhile, new initiatives are underway or developing.
Some efforts, however, are already underway, none more so than GLI’s refreshed Ambassador program. Here, GLI is putting together a group of approximately 150 Louisville entrepreneurs, management leaders and community connectors to become ambassadors for the city.
Those who belong to the group will be updated with the latest and greatest success stories from Louisville as they happen, and be given training on how to talk about Louisville to other business leaders/potential recruits. Not only will this group be called upon to talk to potential incoming businesses, they will be asked to serve as mentors to business leaders who are ready to commit to relocating to or expanding in Louisville.
To support this effort, the existing liveinlou.com and workinlou.com websites are now in the process of being redesigned and combined into one Louisville Ambassadors website. The site will be a repository of everything someone locating to Louisville would want to know, combining a job opening database with information on neighborhoods, schools, cost of living, parks, arts, and food and entertainment, as a start.
With 150 officially trained ambassadors in the program, the website will bring in interest from an even larger group – those who want to say good things about Louisville to tell their friends and family.
While the idea of ambassadors has been tried before, this time extensive training and online materials will help them bridge the gap between merely being community cheerleaders and being true mentors to those looking to come here.
It was this kind of support that made the difference between leaving Louisville and staying for Alli Truttmann, founder and CEO of Wicked Sheets, a small company that is getting a big name for itself manufacturing and selling specialty bedding that wicks away moisture – a boon for people who have hot flashes or night sweats. Truttmann has the sheets sewn in Cincinnati, but all her logistics, fulfillment and headquarters functions are done here in Louisville.
“I originally came to Louisville to go to college, and I found the networking I was able to do was so effective I never wanted to leave. I came to see that Louisville is really as big or as small as you want it to be,” Truttmann said.
“It’s big enough to have tremendous resources for entrepreneurs and groups of professionals that are willing to donate their time to help you succeed. When all I had was an idea for a business, GLI stepped in with education and connections to accountants, lawyers and manufacturing experts that really helped me to understand the ‘how’ in putting my business together. And yet Louisville is small enough to be truly affordable, so you can afford to take a chance to grow a business.
“People here really know you and care about you, like they do in a small town,” she said. “I feel like I can accomplish anything here, and ultimately, that’s what attracted me to Louisville.”
Part of making sure the word gets out about Louisville is helping train the very people who are tasked with convincing new hires to come aboard – recruiters and human resource managers working in Louisville’s mid- to large-size companies.
Epperly-Karem said they are working on putting together education programs they can give to recruiters, along with connections to real estate listings and cost of living calculators, and other online tools for using with potential recruits.
She also hopes to capture the enthusiasm of Louisville’s diverse international community. GLI’s new Greater Louisville International Professionals group now boasts 2,000 members.
More than just a social organization, the group provides real mentorship and networking for people navigating the move to a new country and culture, and Epperly-Karem said she hopes to use them even more in the future as they recruit new companies, and tap into the international talent pool to help existing companies grow.
The University of Louisville, the Mayor’s Office and the U.S. State Department have even organized an exchange program bringing over college interns from sister city Montpellier, France, to work in local businesses in the areas of neurosciences, civil engineering, medicinal chemistry, management, engineering, and industrial studies for the summer – all an in attempt to introduce more people to the city.
Another part of that strategy will be visiting top research and technical schools in the United States and abroad. GLI plans to organize job fairs at these schools, as well as Kentucky universities, helping high-demand students see a future for themselves in Louisville. They plan to hook them up with job openings at top Louisville companies.
But beyond this, they also plan on talking about how the low cost of living in Louisville can help their salary stretch further, without having to give up any of the arts and cultural amenities found in a bigger city.
Selling Louisville’s swagger
By any objective measure, Louisville has certainly been racking up the “cool” points lately. Not only has the city been doing well on the more traditional business measures such as ranking #5, ahead of Atlanta, on the highly competitive Site Selection magazine “Best Metros for Economic Development” list, but the city has also been winning some impressive notice for its bourbon tourism and food culture.
The city was just named the “Best Destination Travel Experience” by the World Food Travel Association, an accolade earned from the city’s growth of its Urban Bourbon Trail, the opening of new tourist distilleries, the growth of NuLu and the progressive scheduling of music festivals and events that have been drawing people from far and wide to enjoy what Louisville has to offer.
Amenities like these make the difference to people who, in increasing numbers, are turning away from bigger cities to go for the short commutes, lower cost of living and overall better quality of life cities like Louisville can offer, according to Kevin Gibson, author of “100 Things to Do in Louisville Before You Die” and “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft.”
“Louisville has a lot to offer. I think younger workers in particular would find the cost of living in Louisville agreeable, making it a great jumping off point for someone looking to live in a larger city,” Gibson said. “And for years I’ve said that Louisville has plenty of big-city amenities that would be attractive to young people: dining, night life, the arts, sports, a fantastic parks system, museums, a growing downtown district, a thriving waterfront.
“And yet, with all those amenities, we have a reasonable crime rate and even a hint of small-town closeness. People here still care where you went to high school. There’s always something going on in Louisville,” Gibson said. “We just need to figure out a way as a community, to show people that.”