SWEDA optimistic about local economy

SWEDA optimistic about local economy

Originally published in the Springfield Sun on February 2, 2022

By: Daniel Carney  

 

In the second quarter of 2019, Washington County had approximately 3,450 jobs, with an average weekly wage of $832.  A year later, in the second quarter of 2020, effects of the covid-19 pandemic began to be felt. That April, employment in Washington County dropped by over 28% to just around 2,500 jobs.  Luckily, the economic pause that resulted from the very beginning of this pandemic was short lived.  We are certainly still feeling the impact of the pandemic, and unfortunately some aspects may never return to what we once considered normal, but we have come a long way since the start almost two years ago.  In the second quarter of 2021, our employment numbers improved to 3,300 jobs, only 4.6% less than pre-pandemic levels.  What’s even more encouraging is that our average weekly wage in Washington County increased 13% higher than pre-pandemic wages. We went from $832 per week in the second quarter of 2019 to $939 in the second quarter of 2021.  Yes, supply chain issues and inflation certainly offset that 13% increase to an extent, but overall I am optimistic about what’s on the horizon. 

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and constraints on the economy via labor and supply chain issues, in the past year, we had projects either started or announced that will bring over $30 million of investment into Washington County.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration over sixty percent of new jobs come from existing businesses and industries.  Which is why SWEDA is constantly engaged in retention efforts that focus on helping our existing businesses and industry not just survive, but thrive.  Of the $30 million of investment mentioned, we will see expansions from companies like INOAC and Michter’s, as well as new developments from small businesses, including two projects that are currently underway in our small business park. SWEDA developed smaller tracts in the Springfield-Washington County commerce center with hopes of improving opportunities for commercial and light industrial businesses in the area. Thus, showing our commitment to supporting businesses of all sizes.  While we are excited about all of these current projects, I feel confident we will eclipse that $30 million investment number in 2022 thanks to current economic trends and some other developments currently in the works.  

Other items of encouragement include enhanced infrastructure that was either completed in the last year or on schedule to begin in the next twelve months.  We have watched our wastewater treatment plant transform, increasing treatment capacity by nearly 500,000 gallons per day.  This project will serve the residents and businesses in Springfield for years to come, and puts us in position to now attract companies with significant water and sewer needs such as distilleries, food processors, and more.  We are also encouraged by the proposed six-year state highway plan that was just released.  This plan as it stands would allocate $49 million over the next six years for major safety and mobility improvements on US-150 between Springfield and Bardstown.  This is a project that SWEDA along with other city and county leaders have been working on for years, and will be a major improvement that will not only make this area more accessible and attractive to future businesses, but also to current and future residents.  

These are just a few of the positives we see on the horizon that have us encouraged for the future, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead.  It’s no secret that the biggest challenge going forward for any business to prosper, grow, or even sustain is a labor shortage.  Workforce issues were already challenging industries across all sectors, but a global pandemic highlighted those challenges and increased their impact.  We have revamped our Workforce Crisis Taskforce at the regional level, and I am happy to be one of the chairmen of that committee.  This is a collaborative effort by eight counties who are working to leverage our collective strengths and address our common challenges.  Currently we are looking at ways we can work with the state legislature to address barriers to employment such as childcare or past criminal records.  We are also working with our educational partners in the region from pre-school to post-secondary to make sure that we are not only giving students the tools needed for success but ensuring that they are aware of the opportunities available to them right here in their backyard.  I also sit on the local board for the Marion County Area Technology Center, the Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Kentucky FAME Board, and am on the facilities plan committee for the ECTC Springfield campus. SWEDA also strives to work collaboratively with Washington County schools.  In the past we have partnered with them on grant projects that have developed career pathway programs for students and are always striving to enhance the relationships between our schools, students and businesses through collaboration on job fairs, internships, and more. 

At the core of our mission, we hope to enhance this community with focused efforts on retention, recruitment and workforce development.  On the surface those may seem like three simple tasks, but looking deeper they are in fact all encompassing of what it takes to be a successful economic development organization.  To retain and recruit you must have other items in place, including infrastructure like utilities, roads, broadband, housing, and now more than ever you must have a skilled and available workforce.  We are proud of the efforts we have put forth so far, and plan to continue and expand on those efforts in 2022 and beyond.   

Daniel Carney is the Executive Director of the Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority (SWEDA).  SWEDA is a special government entity formed by a partnership between the Springfield City Council and the Washington County Fiscal Court. Each entity contributes $80,000 per year, for a total annual allocation of $160,000.  You can reach SWEDA at (859)336-0052 or daniel@sweda.org