Frankfort’s economy got a nice Christmas gift last week with news of startup SteelBlue Building Components’ plan to open a factory in east Frankfort, employing nearly 150 people in the coming decade.
The announcement was a timely reminder that manufacturing jobs remain a vital cog in the local economy and should not be overlooked by city and county elected leaders, who’ve been wandering aimlessly of late in their pursuit of a new economic development strategy for the community.
Frankfort resident Gary Brunette and business partner Rich Saginaw had been eyeing potential locations in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas before a fortuitous family outing at East Frankfort Park’s pickleball courts. En route to the park, Brunette noticed the former Genesco shoe plant off Myrtle Avenue and the for sale sign in front.
A phone call to Frankfort businessman Glenn Wooldridge, who owns the building, got the wheels rolling, and local and state economic development officials closed the deal with a package of tax incentives that SteelBlue can earn by achieving its target of 147 full-time jobs paying an average wage of $34 an hour.
We tip our cap to the embattled Kentucky Capital Development Corp. and to the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for making BlueSteel feel wanted. It’s a bonus that the sheet metal manufacturer will occupy an existing, previously vacant building in the heart of town – a good example of so-called “infill” development advocated by environmental-minded groups like EnvisionFranklinCounty.
Even as American manufacturing jobs have steadily gone overseas and south of the border in recent years, Frankfort has been blessed with a stable industrial base, anchored by stalwarts like Buffalo Trace Distillery and Montaplast. Manufacturing jobs pay better on average than hospitality and retail jobs, are less susceptible to seasonal fluctuations and are more likely to provide important employee benefits like health insurance. Manufacturing is the fuel of a strong middle-class economy such as Frankfort enjoys.
Regrettably, manufacturing has been underappreciated by the current renditions of Franklin County Fiscal Court and the Frankfort City Commission, who say that KCDC’s industrial-focused approach is outdated but have done nothing themselves to create a viable alternative. We’re all for a modernized economic development strategy and have our own concerns about KCDC, but simply throwing darts at the people currently in charge is insufficient from current elected leadership.
Every week, it seems, our newsroom gets a news release from Gov. Andy Beshear’s office announcing new manufacturing jobs in the commonwealth. Neighboring Scott and Shelby counties are frequently the location of those jobs. It’s no coincidence, in our view, that those communities have outpaced Frankfort economically in recent decades.
Last week's SteelBlue announcement was Frankfort’s turn in the spotlight – and reason for optimism. Community leaders should resolve that many more industrial announcements will follow in the years ahead.