METALS MANUFACTURING
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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COLLABORATION

The key to Kentucky’s metals industry success.

METALS MANUFACTURING
by MARK AREND
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overnor Andy Beshear has been on the road visiting metals industry companies helping to showcase their growth in Kentucky and the importance of the industry to the state’s economy. In late January, he was in Ghent, in Carroll County, to mark the one-year anniversary of North American Stainless’ $244 million expansion that will add 70 new jobs to the 4.4-million-square-foot facility when complete in 2025.

Also in January, the Governor joined Logan Aluminum executives at the Western Kentucky University Innovation Campus in Bowling Green. It’s home to the Metals Innovation Initiative (MI2), a nonprofit, industry-led collaborative focused on promoting research, commercialization, talent development and other initiatives designed to grow Kentucky’s metals industry. And in October 2023, Gov. Beshear attended the opening of Nucor Steel’s $1.7 billion, 1.5-million square-foot steel plate manufacturing plant in Brandenburg, in Meade County. 

“Metals manufacturing is booming in Kentucky,” said Gov. Beshear. “It’s exciting to see how this industry is evolving from the sustainability piece and the really good pay to the recycling part of it with Novelis, Wieland North America and River Metals Recycling, among others. Their ability to work together is fostering partnerships. The more these companies work together, the less waste we have and the more stable workforce we have. What used to be called competition isn’t as constructive as collaboration, where everyone does better in terms of profits and productivity.”

More than 36,000 Kentuckians work at more than 250 metals industry facilities throughout the commonwealth. These include more than 180 aluminum- and copper-related facilities employing more than 21,000 people and 43 steel and iron production companies and their nearly 6,400 workers. More than 14% of Kentucky’s manufacturing workers are employed in the metals industry.

‘An Ideal Environment’

“In the past five years, more than 80 metals-related announcements have led to more than $4 billion in investment and created 4,000 full-time jobs,” noted Vijay Kamineni, MI2’s CEO. “The current national focus on the importance of critical supply-chain sectors and Kentucky’s strength in metals production has created an ideal environment to bring this industry more top-of-mind.”

Kamineni said MI2 is focused on bringing the ecosystem together to help inform people about modern metals industry jobs, especially as technologies and new approaches continue to transform production processes throughout Kentucky metals facilities.

“At every level, career pathways in the metals industry provide a range of quality jobs and the potential for growth in a critical industry that itself is evolving and expanding quickly,” he added. “Our first step is making sure our ecosystem partners themselves understand the nature of modern jobs in the metals industry. Since MI2 was founded, we have seen real traction throughout Kentucky to work with the metals industry and to showcase it.”

MI2 worked with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development on a first-of-its-kind Metals Industry Guide and is working with the Kentucky Chamber on methods to bring the story of the metals industry to the talent pipeline and to bring high school students into metals facilities to see what modern plants look like. 

“In the past few months,” Kamineni said, “we have appeared at events like the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce’s SCK Launch Experience for eighth graders in South Central Kentucky and the IdeaFestival held by the Western Kentucky University Center for Gifted Studies to bring the experience of career pathways in the metals industry to middle and high school students. And we are working with university partners across the state and with the Kentucky Community & Technical College System to attract more adults into metals careers pathways.”

 

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Talent Development a Top Priority

Kamineni says talent and workforce initiatives are the highest priority for Kentucky metals companies.

“Not only are we focused on bringing more attention to career pathways in the metals industry, but we are helping establish and support a variety of programs that address talent development, training and retention in the industry,” he explained. “We’re also designing pilot approaches to create new career opportunities, from exploring the potential of satellite offices for metals manufacturers in the state in regions off our main Interstate corridors where there aren’t as many quality job opportunities to creating new opportunities for first-time work experience in the metals industry.”

MI2 also is focused on sustainability efforts. It’s organizing a feasibility study for increasing recycling feedstock coming from post-consumer recycled metals in Kentucky and is putting together a five-year plan for increasing clean energy in Kentucky while maintaining the reliability of the Kentucky metals supply chain.

“We have been running a pilot project to look at methods for measuring, capturing and converting waste heat in metals facilities,” Kamineni said, “and we are also running a pilot to utilize non-diesel fork trucks in Kentucky metals plants.”

Already this year, MI2 has launched a new strategic focus area on technology innovation, identifying priority needs that exist across Kentucky’s metals industry and sourcing potential solutions to those needs, whether those are established companies, startups, or technologies coming out of research & development that address a pressing need. 

“We are continuing to tell the story of innovation across Kentucky’s metals industry,” added, “so that we continue to bring more large metals producers, small and midsized metals businesses, value providers, and ecosystem partners from around the country — and internationally — into our innovation initiatives.”

In July 2023, sheet metal stamping company Thai Summit Kentucky Corp. (TSK) announced a $131 million expansion in Nelson County that will create 78 new full-time jobs.

“Thai Summit Kentucky Corp. and its parent company, Thai Summit Group from Thailand, are committed to be an engine of growth in Kentucky as the Bluegrass State is becoming the crucial hub for North American EV production,” said Kanishka Ghosh, executive manager of administration, treasurer and secretary at TSK at the expansion announcement. “We will be more than doubling our current manufacturing footprint from 200,000 square feet to over 520,000 square feet by the third quarter of 2024 in Bardstown, which will generate additional auto employment and contribute to significant economic growth in the community.”

In November, NEO Industries Inc. announced a 30,000-square-foot, $12.4 million expansion at its facility in Ohio County that will create 20 new jobs. The precision engineering company specializes in surface technology for work rolls in steel and aluminum manufacturing. The facility will support growth in Kentucky’s growing EV battery industry. 

These projects and so many others are proving why Kentucky is at the forefront of metals innovation. 

Mark Arend
Editor Emmeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 





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