Is manufacturing on the rebound in Louisville?


by Joe Arnold

Posted on December 15, 2009 at 6:32 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 15 at 6:46 PM

Amid double digit unemployment and factory closings across America, two major Louisville employers are now planning expansions.

With at least 830 new positions at General Electric's Appliance Park and about 2,000 jobs added at Louisville Assembly Plant with a new flex manufacturing line in 2011, thousands of local manufacturing jobs are expected in Kentuckiana  within the next several years.

"Maybe there is something happening within manufacturing within this country of ours," said Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson (D).

But have the manufacturing gains prompted the city to change its push for more information based jobs?

"No,"  Abramson responded, "You know, we don't ever want to get caught as we did in the recession in the early 80's, when we had 35 to 40% of the folks in this community working in manufacturing.  And when it literally stopped, it took us to the point where today we're about 11%, 12%."

In fact, in the last decade, the Louisville Metro area lost 30,000 manufacturing jobs. U of L economist Paul Coomes says the share "continued to decline even during strong growth years."

The current uptick in manufacturing jobs comes after government incentives, a weaker dollar which makes manufacturing in America relatively cheaper, and labor unions agreeing to wage freezes and lower wages for entry level workers.

"70% of (IUE-CWA local membership) voted for it,"  said Jerry Carney, President of IUE-CWA Local 761.  In May, membership agreed to wage concessions.  "This could not be happening right now if not for the members out here and what they're doing.
Because without change, GE would not even be talking to me about this."

And economic development officials say the return of some manufacturing jobs does not mean a return of a 1950's style of manufacturing.

"I think you are going to see jobs in manufacturing that are more driven on Information Technology that require more education, more skills going into that work.  that's why we must stay focused on education attainment," said Joe Reagan,
CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.

"What we see for the future is really around energy and energy efficient products and manufacturing processes," Reagan contiuned. 

"And I think these more recent announcements both from Ford and GE and others that we are working on. while not a surprise, what they do is confirm the direction we're headed in. and they confirm that there's opportunity around energy and sustainable green and sustainability driven products and processes."

While Mayor Abramson says he hopes that manufacturing is on the rebound, and that GE might add even more new product lines here, the U of L economist says this uptick is merely slowing down an overall manufacturing decline.

Meanwhile, GE says its position now is that its sale or spinoff plans have been "put on hold." Appliance Park's CEO has said publicly that GE Chairman and President Jeff Immelt has told him to run the business like it will be in the portfolio for a long time.

So, there are no guarantees but Immelt has also said publicly that the portfolio is stable since the recent deals were announced.