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TheStreet Open House

Kentucky Plant Closure Disrupts Workers' Lives

Area colleges, workforce development officials and government leaders are teaming up to try to limit the economic damage. Job fairs are being offered and plant workers are being surveyed to gauge their interest in retraining or starting their own businesses.

Other area plants can absorb some displaced workers, and the region recently lured three auto-related plants, said Chris Wooldridge, district director for the small business development center at Murray State University. He predicted that "a fair number" of workers will stay in the area.

"Can we find jobs for 1,100 folks? That's tough to take," he said.

Kentucky's top political leaders have been pushing the federal government to hasten cleaning up the plant and find a new operator to preserve jobs. They're also insisting that any work to re-enrich depleted uranium material at the plant remain at the Paducah facility.

Union leaders also have been calling for a "decontamination and decommissioning" project to retain the workforce. That work would remove processing equipment inside the enrichment buildings. The goal is to provide work for several years until a new operator can be found or new nuclear-related work can be secured.

Donald Overstreet, a sheet metal fabricator for 18 years at the plant, isn't sure what he'll do if he gets a pink slip. His 18-year-old son is starting college in the area and his 15-year-old son is starting high school. Overstreet would like to stay, but if he does, he's looking at taking a big pay cut.

"I'm just one of the unfortunate now that things are changing," he said. Then he reconsidered. "Really I can't look at it as unfortunate. It's a new beginning. You have to be positive, you have to move forward and you have to do what you have to do to provide for your family."

Barry King, a 56-year-old chemical operator at the plant, said he checked out a job fair recently. He left with a pile of brochures but no certain prospects. He said he might attend a technical college to get retrained.

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