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Chamber study analyzes state's job trends

BY DAVID ZOELLERdzoeller@paducahsun.com

An analysis of Kentucky's recovery from the 2008-2009 recession shows several regions surpassing the national average in job growth, while average pay per job continues to be a statewide economic development challenge.

The report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' quarterly census of employment and wages.

Paul Coomer, the chamber's senior economic adviser, used commuting patterns and television market areas to identify nine economic regions of the state, then used county-level data from the labor census to examine economic growth.

"The intention is to think of the state as nine regional economies, instead of one state total," Coomer said. "It gives a lot of insight into why different parts of the state are performing differently."

Most of the regions have a major city.  The nine are Paducah-Purchase, Bowling Green-Hopkinsville, Cumberland, Owensboro-Henderson, Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Ashland and Mountain.

According to the report, Lexington, Louisville and Bowling Green-Hopkinsville had the highest growth in total jobs. The Mountain area, the farthest east, continues to lose jobs. Louisville posted twice the growth rate in manufacturing jobs as any other region. The report notes the Paducah-Purchase region has fewer manufacturing jobs than five years ago.

However, in terms of wages and salaries, six of the regions, including Paducah-Purchase (18.8 percent), grew by over 17 percent. All nine regions posted slower growth than the U.S. average (19.1 percent) in pay per job. Northern Kentucky had the strongest growth in average pay, at 17.7 percent, followed by Paducah-Purchase at 17 percent.

"The reason the chamber reached out to Dr. Coomer was to drill down to the regional level and really attempt to understand what economic trends affect people's lives, incomes, and careers," said Dave Adkisson, state chamber president. "We have to look at Kentucky in a more realistic way than simply lumping everything together in a kind of arbitrary line around the state."

The fastest-growing industry sector in Kentucky is temporary agencies, Coomer said, an indication that some growth is in lower-paying, lower-skilled positions. States with larger metropolitan areas tend to attract more high-end, high-paying office jobs, he added.

Manufacturing in the U.S. has been going through changes for the past 30-40 years, according to Coomer.

"Output goes up and employment goes down, it's the same as in agriculture, mining, etc., and that's because of the ability to automate," Coomer said. "Each worker produces a lot more stuff and output keeps going up, but employment keeps going down. Every recession wrings out more jobs."

Still, manufacturing will continue to play an important role in Kentucky's economic growth, according to Adkisson.

"One of the assets Kentucky has for job creation is its central location ... I think everyone agrees with that," Adkisson said. "One way to take advantage of our central location is to make things here that need to be shipped out to the U.S. population."

Because of that central location, manufacturing will continue to play a very important role in jobs, economic output and relatively higher wages, Adkisson said.

"There's a reason Toyotas are made here and shipped all over the United States."

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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