Governor announces creation of auto industry association

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Local representation on inaugural board

By Marty Finley

Gov. Steve Beshear said Kentucky ranks third nationally in the manufacturing of automobiles, but few recognize that fact on a national or international scale.

“Today, we address that weakness,” Beshear said during a news conference Monday in Frankfort.

Beshear announced the creation of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association, a collaboration between automobile manufacturers, suppliers and supporting agencies in advancing and promoting the auto industry as it pursues growth.

The 12-member inaugural board will be chaired by Larry Hayes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and feature representation from manufacturers with a Hardin County presence, including AGC Automotive Americas, Akebono Brake Corp. and Metalsa Light Vehicles USA & Australia.

The state will facilitate creation of the association, Beshear said, by supporting it until it is self-sustaining. He said it will not be a government or “quasi-government” agency.

“This has been an industry-driven idea and will be an industry-driven organization,” Beshear said.

Hayes said the board will draft its own bylaws, but the cabinet will provide money from its marketing budget to promote the initiative.

Beshear said the association will be tasked with branding the industry with an identity, elevating its visibility and publicizing information on cutting edge technologies and processes under development.

The KAIA also will serve as an advocate by illustrating the industry’s impact on local communities and influence on the economy while identifying needs for continued development. Furthermore, the agency will be charged with defining unified leadership through different strategies, such as coordinated approaches to common problems, the sharing of best practices, applications for federal grants to support training, creation of partnerships with peer organizations and development of an annual automotive conference.

The organization and its members also indicated a desire to tackle workforce development.

Beshear said this could take the form of more aggressive recruitment at schools, the “bolstering” of in-state training resources and a partnership with educational institutions to close the “skills gap” for technical positions.

Gabby Bruno, regional director for state government relations at Ford Motor Co., said Ford is excited about the opportunity to close the skills gap by informing educational institutions about what type of workers the industry is looking for.

Rick Games, president of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation, said the association is a great format for manufacturers and suppliers to bounce ideas off one another.

“I think it will be something that will bear fruit down the road,” Games said.

According to the governor’s office, the state has around 460 automotive-related facilities employing almost 82,000 workers.

In 2013, more than 1.2 million vehicles were produced, which places Kentucky third overall in light vehicle production and first per capita, according to the governor’s office. Kentucky’s automotive exports captured a record of $5.5 billion last year.

Beshear said other states with large automotive manufacturing bases have similar organizations, but the new association plans to be more active and aggressive than most.

“We want Kentucky to become as synonymous with automotive manufacturing as is Detroit,” Beshear said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.