LANCASTER — About 8 percent of Garrard County residents currently are unemployed, a dramatic drop from the nearly 13 percent unemployment rate reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in February 2010.
Such statistics represent people using Garrard addresses to receive unemployment benefits and are not an exact science, said Garrard Judge-Executive John Wilson.
The county collects a 1 percent occupational tax from each person working in Garrard. Despite the economic downturn that started nationally in 2008, occupational tax revenues have continued to rise every year.
“The occupational tax figures are what county officials really utilize to determine the employment outlook in Garrard County,” Wilson said.
Whether someone determines economic viability through unemployment figures, occupational tax revenues or business growth in an area, the future is looking prosperous for the Lancaster area, said Garrard Economic Development Director Nathan Mick.
After more than a decade sitting empty, a 32,000-square-foot spec building on Ky. 52 in Garrard was purchased last year by Performance Feeds and Animal Health. The company is the largest beef cattle feed distributor in Tennessee and created a Kentucky distribution center.
Mine Shield made a multi-million dollar investment when it purchased an empty 60,000-square-foot building in Lancaster. The company uses NASA technology to manufacture life-saving refuge chambers for coal miners who work underground. In just one week of January 2013, Mine Shield hired 10 additional employees, according to Wilson.
Another Garrard-headquartered business, SSI Worldwide, places people from Garrard and other central Kentucky areas into financially lucrative engineering positions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. The company recently sealed a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Oxley Consulting firm to significantly increase business development opportunities with the federal government. That contract almost immediately added two new jobs to the SSI Worldwide office staff in Garrard and six positions overseas, said SSI Worldwide CEO Scott Shinn. One of the six people who recently signed a contract to work in Iraq was a Garrard resident. Typical overseas assignments arranged through SSI Worldwide pay more than $100,000 annually along with a range of benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance.
In the past 12 months, the company hired eight people to work locally and placed 60 people in overseas jobs, Shinn said. About 60 percent of the 68 people employed by SSI Worldwide are military veterans.
“2013 is poised to be another strong year for SSI thanks to our excellent relationship with our business partners and our mutual ability to consistently answer the call for the warfighter’s safety,” Shinn said.
“2013 will also be a year of growth into new markets, serving new prime contractors and growing into new service sectors.”
Mick will leave his post Feb. 1 for a vice-president position at a technology-based, international economic development company based in New York. He will still remain in Garrard County, along with his wife, former Lancaster City Council member Maggie Mick.
Mick was hired as Garrard’s first economic development director in October 2007. During his tenure, Mick helped new and existing Garrard County businesses create hundreds of new jobs, recruited millions of dollars in new economic development investments, and helped secure millions of dollars in community grants, Wilson said. As a result of Mick’s “tireless” efforts, Garrard’s growth and potential have drawn international attention, the judge added.
“There was a lot of controversy last year over whether Nathan’s services were worth $70,000 a year,” Wilson said.
But, Mick did not earn as much money as some people believed. The outgoing economic development director showed The Advocate-Messenger his 2012 W-2 on Friday. He made $62,115 last year, according to the document.
Wilson and Mick believe the number of businesses coming into the county will continue to grow but also want to see the county focus on tourism to create more jobs for people.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Garrard County has accommodations for over 200 people,” Mick said.
When the Interstate 75 connector project comes to fruition in the next couple of years to better connect Garrard, Jessamine and Madison counties, all three communities will see increased job opportunities, said U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie in a recent interview with The Advocate-Messenger.
“I think there’s a lot of optimism (for economic growth in the Garrard area)” Guthrie said. “Having roads and infrastructure, particularly in Garrard County, will help.”