DEBORD – On a wall in a small office in the middle of Martin County, hangs a board covered in blocks, mostly yellow with a few white and blue sprinkled about. A man in a Logan Corporation polo points to the blocks to explain them.
“A few years ago this would have been covered with mostly white blocks—they’re the coal mining jobs. Now it’s all dump body jobs. If we hadn’t changed back then, we’d be at home right now,” he says.
The man is Randy Risner, general manager of manufacturing and engineering at Logan Corporation, located in Debord. Logan Corp. is a company that specializes in steel fabrication and welding to manufacture equipment for mining and construction operations.
Risner explains that in the last year, business diversification – as well as taking advantage of the Kentucky Career Center Get Opportunity (KCCGO) program – has saved his workplace from going under.
KCCGO is a comprehensive, no-cost training program to help dislocated and long-term unemployed jobseekers start or re-enter careers and achieve better employment-related outcomes. One of the ways the program does this is by assisting local employers in finding employees to fill open positions with on-the-job training.
Back in 2012, Senior Vice President of Logan Corporation John Horn explains, the company had many open positions, but not due to growth. The well-documented downturn in the coal industry in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfields had put a huge dent in their business.
“We’ve been very dependent on underground and surface mining for the last 65 or 70 years,” Horn explains. “In the last four years our business has been pretty much destroyed.”
“There is no mining business as we knew it left,” he adds.
Over the course of nearly two years, from 2012 to 2014, Horn says Logan Corp.’s Debord facility went from having 46 employees to less than 20.
“I was talking to some guys here at work and saying we’ve got to find something to keep our shop busy. We can’t keep letting these good people become out of work because of the mining industry,” Horn remembers as he sits in a conference room at Logan Corp.
Horn explains that in the past, his company had experience building rock truck beds, putting liners in them, and building buckets for mining equipment. It dawned on him that with that sort of experience, the company should be able to build other equipment that would be used for more than just mining operations.
“We went out into the marketplace just to see what was out there, and we thought there was enough business that we could sell a few,” he says. “We built a demo body and took it on a show-and-tell trip, and came back with orders, and it’s kind of snowballed from there.”
With the company seeing increased demand, the depleted employee resources were felt hard throughout the operation. That’s when Risner decided to reach out to Big Sandy Area Community Action Partnership (BSACAP) to see how they could help with the need for new employees.
“We realized we needed to hire some additional help, and get them trained,” Risner explains as he sits in the conference room at Logan Corporation. “Big Sandy came up and this (KCCGO) was one of the things that they introduced to us.”
BSACAP provides Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) services in Pike, Floyd, Martin, Magoffin, and Johnson counties under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc., (EKCEP). EKCEP administers WIOA programs in 23 mountain counties and also manages the Kentucky Career Center JobSight network of workforce centers, which provide access to more than a dozen programs and services for jobseekers and employers under one roof.
What BSACAP proposed was assistance in finding applicants for the open positions, as well as a 50-50 match in on-the-job training costs so that positions could be filled more quickly with employees who may not be completely qualified but who could be trained after hired.
“We have gone from 19 shop employees to 40 since January of this year, and that’s 100 percent growth,” Risner says. “It’s hard to hire workers in this area that come in with the exact skill set that you need, so obviously there’s an amount of training that needs to be done. The training is expensive…most of the applicants are former miners. They’re out of work and this is a different skill set required.”
Risner explains that pay for a new hire ranges from $9.50 to $15, depending on their skill level when they are hired. After 600 hours of training, workers can earn an average of $16.25 an hour in the shop.
“We’ve gone through and chosen the best employees that we could, and this program has helped us financially and actually helped do a lot of the research and background for us,” he adds. “It’s been a good deal.”
Looking toward the future, Horn says he can see nothing but growth in the years to come for his company.
“We’re still trying to grow our second shift, and we plan on hiring more people over the course of the rest of the year,” he says. “So, I think things will continue to get better in this business for at least two or three years.”
Risner echoes Horn’s sentiments, adding that it takes a multitude of resources to help a business take any steps forward.
“The main source of our growth has been the diversification away from mining, obviously, but it takes a full basket of tools for us to use to grow, and this (KCCGO) is one of those,” he says.
He adds that programs like KCCGO are assets to a community that has already been so downtrodden by the decline in the coal industry, and would be an even bigger asset if more people knew everything that was offered at places like BSCAP.
“I think it definitely needs to be advertised because one of the issues in Eastern Kentucky is not only the lack of employment, it’s the lack of getting options like this advertised to possible employers,” Risner says. “We need to recruit employers here because there’s plenty of workers out there that would love to have a good job.”