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Marion County residents have average incomes among the lowest in the area, according to a report prepared by the Western Kentucky University Center for Applied Economics.
Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund said this might also explain why many county residents work outside of Marion County.
"Employers will have to consider raising their wages in order to compete," Lund said in a telephone interview Monday.
Catherine Carey, the interim director for the center, compiled the report for the Marion County Economic Development Office. The report was shared with the Marion County Industrial Foundation during its Aug. 21 meeting.
The report compared Marion County with the other counties in its labor market area, which includes Boyle, Casey, Green, LaRue, Mercer, Nelson, Taylor and Washington counties.
Marion County residents earned average annual incomes of $28,990, according to the report. Only Green County ($28,506) and Casey County ($26,134) residents had lower average incomes in the labor market area.
LaRue County residents had the highest average annual income in the area at $37,030. Nelson County residents had the second highest average annual income at $35,382.
Statewide, the average annual income is $35,643.
The report showed that 3,616 people live and work in Marion County, based on 2011 data. The report also showed that 3,714 Marion County residents work outside of Marion County, while 3,233 people who live elsewhere work in Marion County.
The report also noted that 21.7 percent of Marion County residents were living in poverty as of 2012.
"With that much industry, something is seriously wrong there," Larry Tatum said.
Within Marion County, manufacturing employees had the highest average weekly income at $840, and 46 percent of Marion County residents work in manufacturing, according to the report.
County residents working in the leisure and hospitality industry had the lowest wages at $219 per week. Seven percent of Marion Countians are in these fields.
Karen King, resource specialist for the economic development office, said many people who are receiving welfare benefits are making around what they would receive at a $9 or $10 an hour job.
"I've seen that trend over the last seven or eight years anyway. When we go to job fairs and you talk to the people at the employment services, these people don't want to lose their food stamps," she said.
State Sen. Jimmy Higdon said the competition for labor would affect wages, although he didn't understand why Washington County's average wages ($663 per week) were higher than Marion County's ($644 per week).
King said Washington County industries were paying higher entry level wages, although Lund pointed out that Washington County has only two major factories compared to the 30 factories in Marion County.
King said the "street talk" is that Washington County industries are also recruiting employees from Marion County factories.
The report did show that average compensation in Marion County had increased 3.3 percent between 2009 and 2012. Only Green County at 3.7 percent had a higher rate of increase within the labor market area.
"We've got some problems, but we've come a long way," Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw said.
Lund added that the report does not take into account the different costs of living in each county.
On Monday, Lund said the WKU report is part of the information gathering his office is doing to analyze the economic conditions within Marion County.
"Our ultimate goal is to have an employment summit later in the year," he said.
In other matters:
• Lund reported that a $290,000 community development block grant had been approved to help Lebanon Power and Apparatus acquire new equipment and expand its business. He added that the Industrial Foundation committed $50,000 from its revolving loan fund to Lebanon Power and Apparatus. That will be matched by $50,000 from the Lincoln Trail Area Development District.
• Lund also reported that the Industrial Foundation provided $25,000 to Fit Kids.
• Lund said Limestone Branch has indicated it might seek another $100,000 loan, although it has not yet submitted an application.
"They are needing to expand. They're growing at a very fast rate out there," Lund said.
• The Industrial Foundation discussed renovating an old tobacco barn as a possible storage facility for Limestone Branch. Lund said he received an estimate that it would cost between $2,000 and $3,500 to fix it up.
Joe Spalding, who is a farmer and an Industrial Foundation board member, advised against spending money to repair the barn. He said it would be better to tear down the barn and build a new one.
The board approved tearing it down, although they agreed to contact the Lebanon Fire Department about the possibility of using the barn in a training exercise.
• King reported that a federal program would provide $5,000 for mining families to relocate and be retrained for work in a new industry. She said she signed up local industries to receive information about the program. She added that she and Mary Lou Brock, the Main Street coordinator for the Marion County Economic Development Office, will be attending a job fair in eastern Kentucky soon.
• Lund announced that Congressman Ed Whitfield would be at Maker's Mark on Sept. 4. Lund said his office will be putting together a presentation about needs in the community, and local officials are welcome to attend.