Paducah and McCracken County residents shouldn't let the cloud of the United States Enrichment Corp. plant shutdown overshadow the fact that our community is on an incredible roll when it comes to job creation. And obviously, it couldn't come at a better time.
The latest good news came Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting for TeleTech Holdings' new state-of-the-art call center in the Paducah Commerce Park (formerly the Information Age Park). TeleTech came to the community with the promise of 400 jobs - 300 at the Commerce Park facility and 100 more at the soon-to-be-remodeled Commerce Center downtown.
Todd Baxter, TeleTech's senior vice president of operations, surprised the Tuesday gathering when he announced that the 400-job forecast turned out to be a little low. "Our intention is to bring 550 new jobs all told," he announced. Baxter said discussions with the Paducah centers' key customer, identified as a major insurance carrier, led to the conclusion that additional staff would be necessary to meet the needs.
Added to other recent announcements, the TeleTech contribution brings the total new jobs coming to McCracken County this year to more than 850. Whitehall Industries, a Michigan-based auto parts manufacturer, has built a plant in the I-24 Park off Olivet Church Road that will provide 150 jobs once in full production. Macco Organiques, a Canadian-based chemical firm, is taking over Paducah Economic Development's spec building in the Commerce Park and supplying 40 new jobs. Southern Coal Handling is building a facility at the Ohio River Triple Rail Megasite that will employ 50 people. And Genova Products, a Michigan-based plastics manufacturing company is taking over the 100,000 square foot plant that formerly housed Infiniti Plastics Technology. Genova will provide 75 jobs initially and hopes to bring employment to 125 within 10 years.
Sometimes when it rains it pours. We frankly cannot remember a period of 10 years in the recent past in which the community attracted 850 new jobs, not to mention a single year.
The only thing tempering the celebration is of course the loss of hundreds of very good jobs at USEC. The uranium enrichment facility employed until recently 1,100 people who collectively received payroll and benefits totaling $140 million a year. The workforce is now down to a few hundred following waves of layoffs that accompanied an end to enrichment operations.
The potential good news there is that federal cleanup operations at the USEC site could by our understanding employ as many as 1,000 people if bureaucratic inertia can be overcome and a U.S. Department of Energy contract for new cleanup work is awarded.
Charlie Martin, executive director of the Paducah Area Reuse Organization, says the field of bidders for new cleanup work at the site has been narrowed to two - Fluor Corporation and AECOM. Congress has appropriated $271 million for cleanup at the site in the current fiscal year. However, Martin says with the contracts still pending and the fiscal year ending in September, $100 million of that may not get spent.
We're all for deficit reduction but this is work the federal government is obligated to do. Our hope is that a decision on the contract award will be made posthaste. If our community gets hundreds of new cleanup jobs at the USEC site in the near future, the pall from the USEC layoffs will lift considerably and the net jobs picture here will go from gloom to boom.
It does seem likely to happen eventually, and when it does, the community could be in for a welcome stretch of growth and prosperity.