Todd Cooper, Ballard County judge-executive, shared his excitement for the county's net job growth, especially for the reopening of the Wickliffe paper mill, with Paducah Rotarians on Wednesday.
Cooper served as this week's Rotary Club of Paducah speaker in the Myre River Room at the Carson Center, where he spoke about Ballard County companies that have contributed to job growth, including Phoenix Paper in Wickliffe, Aerosource H in Kevil, Big River Propeller in La Center and others.
"From 2004 … it's about a 12-year period, we were losing jobs in Ballard County every year," he said. "This was brought to my attention by Paducah economic development people about a year ago."
In the last five years, Cooper said several companies have located in Ballard County and there's been a net job increase of 350, which continues to grow. He described the Wickliffe paper mill's return as an "answered prayer."
Phoenix Paper, owned by China-based paper and pulp company Shanying International, celebrated the restarting of operations at the former Verso Corporation mill in late May. More than 200 people work at the paper mill, according to the company.
"They've been very cooperative with us and very good to work with," Cooper said. "From January through (the present), there's 37 contractors working at the paper mill and this is not counting your hourly and salary people that they've hired. That's about 240 roughly and it's supposed to increase as well."
Cooper said hemp processing company Aerosource H came to Ballard County in early 2018, bringing jobs and buying hemp from Kentucky farmers.
"(And) Big River Propeller opened up in 2014 with two or three employees," he added. "They have expanded up to 15 and they are bringing in propellers -- they call them wheels, for you familiar with the maritime industry -- bringing wheels off of tugboats as far as New York State now."
Cooper said Ballard's job growth is positive for younger generations who now know there's potential to live in the area and make a living to support their families.
"When I moved to Louisville to get my bachelor's degree, that was one of my concerns in the '80s," Cooper told the Sun. "'When I got home, what kind of job am I going to be able to get?' Of course, I knew about the tire plants. I knew about the DOE site. I knew about the paper mill, but I still thought there should be some more opportunity out there."
He went on to praise the region's economic diversity, such as jobs in health care, government, the river industry, paper, agriculture and other areas.
"It's really neat to see how now it seems like there's more and more opportunities in diverse fields for people to obtain employment for our future, which is huge."