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Growing auto industry has major impact on state, region

One of every 14 jobs in a 15-county region stretching from Bowling Green to Hopkinsville is in automobile-related industries, and Kentucky is now the third-largest state in the country in terms of the size of its auto industry.

Those were some of the messages delivered Thursday at a Regional Economic Briefing at Western Kentucky University’s Augenstein Almuni Center hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The briefing spotlighted the state’s auto industry but also included information about the nation’s and region’s overall economic picture.

Dave Tatman, executive director of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association, said Kentucky trails only Ohio and Michigan in terms of producing vehicles and adds $14.3 billion – or 7.8 percent – to the gross state product. That represents 136,000 jobs – one of every 18 in the state.

“We are without a doubt a national player in the automotive industry,” he said.

Among the challenges the industry faces is finding a skilled workforce, a problem made worse because many of the manufacturing plants have been in the state for about 30 years and the original workers are now retiring.

Another challenge to the U.S. auto industry as a whole is competition from Mexico. That country not only has the benefit of lower labor costs but numerous beneficial trade agreements as well.

Still, the Kentucky auto industry is “not only strong, it’s growing stronger,” he said, pointing to $6.5 billion in auto-related investments in the state in the past five years, such as the $439 million painting facility being built at GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant, Tatman’s former employer.

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