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Bowling Green Mayor Sees Gains, Pains for Manufacturing in the Region

Kevin Willis

Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson says that while it feels like "slogging through mud", the area economy is slowly starting to turn around.

However, Wilkerson told WKU Public Radio the city is still subject to manufacturing job losses that can have a big impact on its labor force.

"In a community our size, when something like Eagle Industries shuts down and puts 275 people out of work, we feel that hit. Fruit of the Loom has decided to reduce its workforce by close to 100 this year, and those are 100 good-paying jobs that are very meaningful to our economy. So when they're gone, we notice it," Wilkerson said.

Recent data compiled by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet show the Bowling Green Metropolitan Statistical Area with a seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 7.5 percent for the month of July, which is two-tenths of a percentage point below the national jobless figure.

The Bowling Green Metro Area includes the counties of Allen, Butler, Edmonson, and Warren.

Not Your Father's Manufacturing Job

Mayor Wilkerson says a major challenge facing the city and area industries is preparing for an expected shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector.

"The last study we did showed that there will be about 4,500 jobs in the manufacturing field in our region by the year 2017 that we have to fill. And manufacturing is not what I think of from my father's and grandfather's day where you're putting the same bolt in the same day, hour after hour."

Wilkerson says the manufacturing jobs of the present and future require technical and robotic skills that many displaced workers don't possess. The Bowling Green mayor told WKU Public Radio manufacturers in the region will have to continue to identify workers who are willing to update their skills in order to fill high-tech manufacturing jobs in the coming years.

He says area community and technical colleges will play a big role in helping that transformation. An example of that is the recent addition of a full-time welding instructor at the Southern Kentucky Community and Technical College campuses in Franklin and Glasgow.

More classes were added because of high student demand.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.