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Dana, Hill Engineering boost ailing Boyle job market

September 12, 2003|HERB BROCK

Rocked by large losses of manufacturing jobs over the last couple of years and a double-digit unemployment rate, Boyle County is getting a double shot of industrial growth in its economic arm.

Two Danville industries - Dana Sealing Products Division (Victor Reinz) and one of its major suppliers, Hill Engineering - are in the midst of companion expansions that represent a total of nearly $2 million in investments in new facilities and equipment and already have produced more than 100 new jobs.

"Given what our industrial base has experienced over the last two or so years, the expansions are certainly great news for this community," said Joe Gibson, executive director of the Boyle County Industrial Foundation. "It's wonderful to know that two very good industries are growing and that local people will be able to have jobs because of it.

Hill Engineering will be breaking ground Tuesday on an 8,000-square-foot expansion of its tool and die operations. The expansion, which will cost about $700,000 for a new building and equipment, is scheduled to be completed in November, said plant manager Robbie Bray.

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Hill, which currently has 21 employees, will be hiring four to five more workers because of the expansion, said Bray. The company will equip the addition with several machines, including a high-speed milling machine, drill press, monorail system and worktables and die racks.

"Our expansion is directly linked to Dana's expansion," said Bray, whose company moved from Chicago to Danville in 1988 shortly after Dana made the same move. "They needed more of our product, so we, very happily, had to take the necessary steps to accommodate them."

Dana's expansion, which started several months ago, has involved doubling the overall size of the plant and adding two new process lines for the manufacture of a new product, a multilayer steel gasket for the automotive industry, said plant manager Crista Stamper.

"We've installed one of the process lines and are completing the second," Stamper said.

Overall, the expansion project represents an investment of "well over $1 million" in new facilities and equipment, she said.

Since January, when Stamper took over as plant manager from Bill Conder, who retired, Dana has hired some 100 new employees and most of them have been hired to staff the addition, she said. Total employment at the plant is 300 and that number may be increasing even more over the next few months, she said.

Boyle's unemployment rate continues to be high

The Dana and Hill expansions come at time of continuing high unemployment in Boyle County, much of it caused by job losses in industry. According to the Kentucky Workforce Development Cabinet, the county's jobless rate in June, the most recent month for which data have been compiled, was 10.8 percent. After years of boasting rates of 4 to 5 percent, Boyle's unemployment figures have ranged from 8 to 11 percent during much of the current year.

Over the last three years, Boyle has lost a total of 1,165 manufacturing jobs, according to a report covering 2000 through September 2003 that was compiled by Gibson. The biggest single losses were 480 jobs at Matsushita in August 2000 and 550 jobs at ATR, which closed in February of this year; the most recent loss was the 85 jobs at Penn Ventilation Co. in Junction City, which is closing.

During the same period, the county has gained 490 manufacturing jobs, according to Gibson's report. Thus, the net job loss from 2000 to the present has been 675.

"The expansions at Dana and Hill won't offset the losses we've had over the last few years, but they will make a significant dent," Gibson said. "And I think they represent some hopeful signs on the industrial front."

Among those positive signs, he said, are Pliant's decision to take over the 300,000-square-foot distribution center vacated by KayBee Toys and plans by another major local company to expand.

"Timberland is planning an expansion, but we're not ready to release the details yet," said Gibson.

In addition, Gibson noted that R.R. Donnelley and Sons and Matsushita, despite its heavy job loss in 2000, each still have payrolls of 1,000 or more employees.

"We've gone through some dark days concerning our manufacturing situation but I really think we're beginning to see that light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

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