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Region loses manufacturing jobs

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

The number of manufacturing jobs in the region has decreased since the last recession, while the average pay per manufacturing job has increased, according to a report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

The report, prepared by Paul Coomes, the chamber's senior economic advisor, shows the number of manufacturing jobs in the Paducah-Purchase region declined by 8.5 percent, or 957 jobs, from July 2009 through December 2013.

Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' quarterly census of employment and wages, Coomes used commuting patterns and television market areas to identify nine economic regions in the state, then used county-level data from the census to examine economic growth.

In his analysis, Coomes identified the Paducah-Purchase region as 11 counties: Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Crittenden, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Livingston, Lyon, McCracken, and Marshall.

Despite the drop in manufacturing jobs, average quarterly pay per manufacturing job rose 28.6 percent in the region, higher than the state (17.4 percent) and national (21.3 percent) average, according to the report.

"A possible explanation is that you see, particularly in the early phase of recovery, employers hesitant to add more workers, so they end up working their existing force longer hours resulting in higher pay," Coomes said.

In McCracken County, manufacturing jobs decreased by 364 during the period, but manufacturing wages increased nearly 14 percent.

"I would think the majority of those (364) jobs would be (United States Enrichment Corporation) USEC-related," said Chad Chancellor, Paducah Economic Development president.

The number of manufacturing jobs in Paducah is well above the national average, Chancellor said, even with the reduction. In addition, many of the industries bringing new jobs to the area, like automotive supplier Whitehall, are just now beginning to hire.

Marshall County actually gained 72 manufacturing jobs, about 3 percent, while manufacturing wages increased 25 percent.

While Marshall County did lose 150 jobs due to a plant closing in Benton in late 2008, existing industries remained cautiously optimistic through the recovery with very few layoffs, according to Josh Tubbs, Marshall County Economic Development director.

"The good news for our industries came from the Kentucky Reinvestment Act (KRA), which offered state incentives for existing industries investing in their operations in Kentucky," Tubbs said. "We have seen a tremendous amount of participation in this program over the last few years and expect the investment from our Calvert City plants in their facilities in Marshall County to be near $500 million by the end of the year."

Calloway County showed a decrease of 817 jobs, but an increase of 15 percent in manufacturing wages, according to the report.

Mark Manning, president of the Murray Calloway County Economic Development Corporation, said because he hasn't seen the report, he isn't sure how the statistics were determined.

"Because of the uncertainty in the economy, a lot of manufacturing firms keep a core group of full-time people, then pick up seasonal employees through employment agencies," Manning said.

That assessment would seem to be in line with another factor cited by Coomes in the initial announcement of the report, that the fastest-growing industry sector in Kentucky is temporary agencies.

"I can assure you we watch the manufacturing economy here very closely," Manning said. "It is a huge portion of the economy in Calloway County."

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

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