Manufacturing drives Kentucky’s record economic momentum

By the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Building on its historic year for investment and job growth in 2021, Kentucky’s economy continues to build momentum thanks to the state’s key industries experiencing unprecedented growth. One sector serving as a cornerstone of that success is the state’s manufacturing industry, which is driving billions of dollars of ongoing investment and thousands of new jobs across the Commonwealth.

October is Manufacturing Month

To celebrate the importance of the rapidly growing sector, October serves as Manufacturing Month in the Commonwealth, celebrating the industry’s nearly 5,000 facilities statewide. 

Kentucky plays an outsized role in the nation’s manufacturing sector through thousands of businesses statewide – from single-person shops to global brands like Ford, Tyson, Georgia-Pacific, Toyota and GE Appliances – and the approximately 250,000 Kentuckians employed in the industry.

“Manufacturing in this state is a critical reason we continue to see economic growth throughout the Commonwealth,” Governor Andy Beshear said. “We are building an economy that works for every single Kentuckian now and for future generations, and the manufacturing sector will always be vital to reaching that goal. I am constantly reminded of and encouraged by the companies who choose to believe and invest in this great state. From small businesses and startups to multibillion-dollar corporations, every company that helps make Kentucky a major player in this nation’s manufacturing sector deserves to be recognized. We have the resources, the skilled workforce and the infrastructure to continue to build and thrive, and manufacturing will continue to be at the center of that effort. I want to thank each and every manufacturer across our state for contributing to our ongoing success.”

2022: A year of unprecedented growth

Over the past year, Kentucky has landed some of the largest economic development projects in state history, solidifying the Commonwealth’s manufacturing industry as one of the strongest and fastest-growing industries in the region.

In September 2021, Gov. Beshear joined leadership from Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation to announce the single-largest economic development project in state history, celebrating a transformative $5.8 billion investment creating 5,000 jobs. The investment in an 86-gigawatt electric vehicle battery plant in Hardin County places Kentucky at the forefront of an automotive future that will include increased EV and battery production.

Kentucky further established itself as a national leader in EV battery production in April 2022, when Japan-based Envision AESC announced a $2 billion, state-of-the-art gigafactory in Bowling Green’s Kentucky Transpark. The 30-gigawatt plant will create 2,000 skilled jobs in southcentral Kentucky, producing battery cells and modules to power next generation EVs produced for multiple global automotive manufacturers.

Another notable manufacturing investment came from GE Appliances in Louisville, which in October 2021 announced a $450 million project to increase production and add flexibility for future product models. In December 2021, Pratt Paper broke ground on the company’s $500 million paper mill and box factory in Henderson, which serves as the largest investment in the western Kentucky region in more than 25 years, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

In January of this year, Quadrant announced a $95 million-plus, 171,000-square-foot rare earth magnet manufacturing operation in Louisville that will serve electric vehicles and other markets and is the company’s first mass production facility in the United States.

Brand names you may recognize, made right here – in Kentucky

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky is an automotive manufacturing plant located in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Recent significant commitments aren’t the only exciting element of Kentucky’s manufacturing sector. The Commonwealth is also home to thousands of companies producing name-brand goods and services that we use every single day.

Central and northern Kentucky are home to manufacturing centers for JIF, Post-it Notes, Airheads and Mentos, L’Oreal and Tiffany engagement rings. Western and southcentral Kentucky features brands such as Smucker’s, Champion Petfoods, Dippin’ Dots, and Dixie plates and bowls. Meanwhile, eastern Kentucky produces Gatormade trailers, Duraflame Logs, Pop-Tarts, Hot Pockets and charcoal briquettes. And disco balls, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, White Castle frozen burgers and Ford vehicles such as the recently unveiled all-new Ford F-Series Super Duty truck, all come from the Louisville Metro area.

Location is key to the Commonwealth’s economic success

The Commonwealth’s central geographic location makes it ideal for manufacturing and distribution of products throughout the United States and around the globe. Kentucky’s central location puts manufacturers within 600 miles – or 1,000 kilometers – of two-thirds of the U.S. population. That centrality enables manufacturers to quickly distribute their products to key markets, while global air cargo hubs operated by UPS, DHL and Amazon provide fast and reliable distribution overnight to anywhere in the world. Industrial employers also benefit from various reliable, air, road, waterway and rail shipping options.

Kentucky ranks as a leading manufacturing state with over 13% of its workforce within the sector, versus 8.5% nationally, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. This strong industry workforce, in addition to manufacturing projects accounting for over 93% of the state record $11.2 billion in announced private-sector investment in 2021, lays a strong foundation for the future of the industry and for the Commonwealth.

Coupled with the state’s expansive logistics and distribution industry and its pipelines for educating and training future generations of skilled manufacturing employees, Kentucky is building a foundation that will allow its growing manufacturing sector to reach even greater heights in the years ahead.

More information on Kentucky’s economic development efforts and programs is available at CED.ky.gov.

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