Tough times ahead

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Local unemployment rate is climbing, but county is in better shape than some of its neighbors

By Stevie L. Daugherty

Got a job?

If so, feel lucky because, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the nation's unemployment rate reached a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October as 240,000 more jobs were cut. So far this year, 1.2 million jobs have disappeared.

Kentucky's unemployment rate is even higher than the nation's, at 6.7 percent, and Marion County's is the highest it's been in three years at 6.9 percent.

However, even with the unemployment rate climbing, Marion Countians have a lot to be thankful for, according to Marion County Economic Development Director Tom Lund.

"I'm always in touch with people from other states, and even though we are slowing down and there will be layoffs, we are damn lucky to be in Marion County," he said.

According to Lund, local industries have indicated, at this time, that they don't see any significant layoffs. Many of those industries have laid off their temporary workers and cut their work schedules to adjust to the poor economy.

"You used to see cars in every industrial park every Saturday and Sunday," Lund said. "You don't see that anymore."

However, Lund said Marion County is fortunate to have two new industries locating here, Rancho Poultry and Fuel Total Systems. Those two industry announcements have been two of the very few made within the past year in virtually the whole state, he said.

In July, Rancho Poultry announced that it would be building a $43-million chicken processing plant in Lebanon. Last month, Fuel Total Systems, a Japanese-owned automotive supplier, announced that it was going to locate in Lebanon bringing with it 100 new full-time jobs.

According to Lund, Rancho Poultry has bid out the project and is currently re-negotiating with contractors, which is prolonging the process a bit.

Today, Fuel Total Systems will be holding a special ground breaking ceremony at the site of what will become a new 140,000-square-foot facility on Corporate Drive behind TG Kentucky. The plant will manufacture and supply automotive fuel tank systems and related components.

Rancho Poultry and Fuel Total Systems are two examples of how the Marion County Industrial Foundation have tried to diversify the county's industrial base, said Freddie Higdon, industrial foundation president.

"The industrial board has aggressively pursued diversification in our industrial base so that the cyclical cycles of one industry can be offset by a positive in another industry," he said.

For instance, the automotive industry is taking a huge hit, forcing auto makers to lay off thousands of their employees. Just last week, Ford announced that its Louisville Assembly Plant faces a five-week production shutdown beginning the week of Dec. 1, and its Kentucky Truck Plant will likely be shutdown from mid-December into early February. General Motors intends to lay off 110 workers in January and shut down production for two weeks at its Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green. Company-wide, GM plans to cut 5,500 jobs and warned that it might run out of money by the end of the year.

Marion County is fortunate not to have all of its eggs in one basket, especially the automobile industry basket, according to Higdon.

"I think our local industries are all strong and competitive and have done well in forecasting their position in the economy," he said. "I also think they have done a tremendous job in modernizing their plants and facilities and training their labor force, which allows them to be flexible enough to cope with the current economy."

Just like the residents of Marion County, industries are having to pinch pennies, Higdon said.

"Overall, I get the impression that they are hunkered down and they are going to weather the storm," he said.

That is the case at Angell-Demmel North America in Lebanon, according to President John Turner, where they have had to make changes in their staffing and minimize expenses wherever they can, whether that be transportation, energy or other areas.

Turner said the current economic crisis is undoubtedly a global one.

"The speed at which this happened - the uncertainty - it's like nothing I've gone through in my life," he said.

But, no matter how bad it may get, life will go on, he said.

"The sun will come up tomorrow," Turner said.   Unemployment rate  

                    Sept. 2007     Sept. 2008

Marion County          4.6 percent     6.9 percent

Kentucky               5.1 percent     6.7 percent

United States          4.7 percent     6.1 percent           

* Information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. October statistics not available as of press time.

  Number of people employed in Marion County   June 2008          9,973 July 2008          9,862 August 2008     9,758 September 2008     9,696 Total:           277 jobs lost   Unemployment rates               

                    Sept. 2007     Sept. 2008

Boyle County          5.4               6.7 Casey County          5.2               6.5 LaRue County          4.5               6.9 Marion County          4.6               6.9 Nelson County          4.7               8.1 Taylor County          5.1               6.0 Washington County     4.8               7.8   Employment

                    June 2008          Sept. 2008     % change

Boyle County          12,080          11,807          -2.26 Casey County          7,158          6,905          -3.53 LaRue County          6,645          6,529          -1.75 Marion County          9,973          9,696          -2.78 Nelson County          20,329          19,959          -1.82 Taylor County          13,113          12,835          -2.12 Washington County     5,267          5,093          -3.30