The Times Journal & Russell County News
Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2014 — RUSSELL SPRINGS & JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY —
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Economy putting pressure on local manufacturing businesses as industrial authority works to keep and bring in jobs
In Oct. 9-15 Issue
By Greg Wells
Times Journal Managing Editor

A five-hundred and eight point drop on Tuesday, and one analyst reports that the stock market's Dow Jones average has lost 36 percent of its value since this time last year.

Foreign markets have dropped repeatedly in the last weeks as news of the "sub-prime mortgage crisis" is leading many economists to say the word they refused to all summer, recession.

Locally, though the news isn't all roses, there are bright spots.

Gene Royalty Director of the Russell County Industrial Authority reports that many of the local businesses like BRUSS, Tantus Tobacco, Hitachi and Fruit of the Loom are doing well or at the least holding their own.

"For 25-years we were in a growth pattern. Now we are in a holding pattern," said Superior Battery President Randy Hart.

He said the 20 or so people laid off by his firm recently was about 13 percent of the workforce and was part of the company's desire to improve efficiency on their production line.

"I don't' know that we've ever stepped back before - It wasn't that… It was more of a leaning out," Hart explained.

He said there are changes afoot in the battery business and some are challenges and others could be blessings but for the present time they would become a more lean company and prepare for "new technology" that they were bringing on line in the spring.

Though he wouldn't elaborate on exactly what they were bringing in to the plane just yet he did talk at length about what other companies were doing in the industry and new battery technology that was coming to the forefront.

"We're watching the developments in fuel cells," he said and then described several other exotic battery processes that are in development around the country.

Terry Stephens, president of Stephens' Pile and Steel, said they had laid off workers recently, a total of about 100 people recently.

This time last year he said his firm employed about 424 people locally and now employs 335. He said that employment fluxuates naturally through the year but this year they weathered two storms.

First he said tariffs on imported steel drove the prices up on raw materials and now demand has fallen off in August and September as much as it traditionally would have in December and January.

"Its like winter came early this year," Stephens said.

Slow-downs in the government sector as well as in the private sector have cut into sales, while increases in material prices every three or four weeks during the spring and summer were impacting other numbers.

"Ask them at the hardware store," Stephens added. "The price of nails went up three or four-hundred percent this spring."

But there are some sectors of the business that are still strong. Stephens said they will be shipping product to the Guantanamo Naval Station and Iraq but domestic military orders are down.

The industrial authority is working though to improve the employment situation, with a new "Spec" building going up in the French Valley Industrial Park.

"I believe they'll beat their completion date," Royalty said.

The building is to attract new business to the area. He said that even if a business doesn't elect to locate in their building the way Hitachi did just having the building gives the county the chance to show off the industrial park to businesses that may be more interested in building to suit their needs.

There have been several announcements around Kentucky of new businesses locating in the commonwealth and getting a piece of that is part of what the authority is about.

Royalty explained that retaining and expanding the business already located here is also part of their mission and a big help to that is the local adult education system.

He said the program to train and certify applicants has been hailed by local employers as improving the quality of applicants and workers.

Royalty also credited the efforts of the employers themselves at expanding and diversifying their product lines to supply domestic and foreign customers.

"BRUSS should be ready to hire new people in March or so," Royalty said. "Hitachi is moving some more of their business to this plant from the New Albany Indiana plant."

In all, the local manufacturing base has added about 500 jobs over the last few years Royalty said, and plans are for that trend to continue.

Those two plants are expanding, Superior is adding new equipment in the spring and Fruit of the Loom is in the process of adding to the local production facility, Royalty stressed.

"Lilly Creek is doing very well," he added saying that the new road at the French Valley Road park would be finished soon and that the new building would be ready to show very soon.

"That park shows really well with that new road and new building," He said with a smile.

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Russell Springs KY 42642
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Russell County News is a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, and is mailed free to every address in Russell County, Ky. It was first published on February 1, 1913.
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