Louisville rules!
The Louisville skyline. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

With about 31,000 open jobs and few available workers, local chamber officials increasingly are getting more creative about how to attract not just high-wage jobs, but people who can fill them.

In its mid-year report, Greater Louisville Inc. said it has about 50 economic development projects in its pipeline that would generate nearly $76 million in investments and create 2,000 jobs in and around Louisville.

GLI said that Advance Greater Louisville, a partnership among 10 counties in Kentucky and five in Indiana, already has netted 20 new projects this year, with $41 million in investments and nearly 1,500 jobs. AGL works to attract companies by reaching out to real estate brokers, site consultants and utility companies.

Recent successful projects include:

  • Nutrition supplement maker CEND plans to invest $17 million on a production facility in Bullitt County. The facility will employ 350.
  • Law firm Hogan Lovells plans to invest $8.9 million in Louisville to establish a global business services center with 250 jobs.

For an additional 50 projects, companies have selected the Louisville area among a few finalists, GLI officials said.

Attracting employees

At the same time, GLI leaders are stepping up their efforts to bring more people to Louisville to address one of the main challenges that businesses are facing: a small labor pool from which to recruit qualified employees.

Employers including GE Appliances and Ford Motor Co. have said that they are struggling to find workers with the right skills, even at wages that are double the federal minimum wage.

KentuckianaWorks, the regional workforce development board, said in its most recent quarterly report that more than 31,000 jobs were posted in the region between January and March. Among high-wage jobs, employers were looking especially for registered nurses — nearly 2,000 of them.

Companies also had lots of openings for truck drivers, retail sales clerks, warehouse workers and software developers.

The area’s unemployment rate is hovering near 5 percent. The local labor force participation rate exceeds state and national averages, which means the share of people aged 16 or older who are working or looking for work is relatively high. The problem: While people are moving to other areas of the United States at a decent clip, migration to this part of the country has stagnated.

Kent Oyler
Kent Oyler

Kent Oyler, the chamber’s CEO, wrote in a recent column that GLI had nearly 9,000 open job listings for positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Oyler told IL that when it comes to recruiting potential employees from other cities and nations, Louisville has yet to overcome some marketing challenges.

A lot of people who are willing and able to move aren’t yet putting Louisville near the top of their list, Oyler said.

To some extent, it’s a lack of prominence. People who live in Los Angeles, Chicago or Omaha, Neb. may know about bourbon and the Kentucky Derby — but not a whole lot else about what makes the area an attractive place to live and work, Oyler said.

Part of GLI’s strategy to change involves identifying ambassadors among corporate recruiters. The recruiters know how to sell their company, but they may not know how to sell the city, Oyler said. To help them overcome that challenge, GLI is launching some tools, including cost-of-living calculators and information about schools and quality of life/recreation.

Oyler said the lack of a top-flight professional sports team hampers recruitment efforts. Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Nashville, Tenn., get some exposure and prestige from the Colts, Pacers, Bengals, Reds, Titans and Predators.

Affordability, accessibility, quality of life

However, Oyler said, Louisville can overcome that shortfall by highlighting some of its strengths, including good careers, affordable housing and accessibility. Louisvillians — unlike New Yorkers or Chicagoans — can get easily involved in community organizations and connect with other residents.

People appreciate that, Oyler said, but they may not know that about Louisville — yet.

When's the last time you stopped by the Slugger Museum? | Courtesy of Louisville Slugger Museum
The Louisville Slugger Museum. | Courtesy of the museum

Deana Epperly Karem, the chamber’s VP of regional economic development, told IL that many people want to move to an area for the same reasons that businesses want to set up shop there, including affordable real estate prices, light traffic and little sprawl.

That puts Louisville ahead of many areas such as Atlanta, Chicago or Nashville, she said.

Deana Epperly Karem | Courtesy of Greater Louisville Inc.
Deana Epperly Karem

Louisville’s vibrant arts community, museums and recreation options — proximity to snow skiing, the river and the equine industry — also generate interest.

And, Karem said, the city has housing options for just about everyone, from families who want to live close to schools, sports venues or churches, to empty nesters looking to downsize and singles who want to live in a hip downtown.

“Greater Louisville is a great place to live,” she said.

Next month, chamber officials will travel to Austin, Texas to gain insights into how the city has fostered and managed its growth, in the hopes of replicating some of those approaches in northern Kentucky.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.