“A unique workforce” emerges amidst chemical weapons destruction
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – One of the last remaining facilities containing chemical weapons in the country is getting rid of their weapons stockpile, and it’s leaving behind a unique workforce.
The destruction of the chemical weapons will be complete anywhere from September to December of 2023, according to Madison County Chemical Weapons Liaison Craig Williams. So far, the facility has destroyed three out of the five chemical weapons campaigns that have been housed at the facility.
“They weren’t designed to be taken apart. They were designed to be used. It’s been a real challenge trying to destroy the chemical agents inside them,” said Williams.
Williams has been working for 35 years as a civilian on the destruction project, focusing mainly on its economic impact. He says the chemical weapons facility, a tenant facility at the Blue Grass Army Depot, employs about 1500 highly skilled workers in fields like engineering, robotics, and computer science. Once the weapons are destroyed, this unique workforce will be unemployed.
“We have a pool of a workforce that’s very unique. And we also have a relatively fixed date for when all of these people will be unemployed. What we’re trying to do is develop a portfolio of who these people are, what their talents are, and what they offer regionally, and present that to different businesses to attract them to this area,” said Williams.
Williams says the employees had to complete a rigorous background check before working at the facility, and, as a result of working with chemical weapons, have high security clearances. Williams thinks this will make them highly marketable job candidates.
“I think what would happen would be that employers would recognize the value of what this workforce has already gone through in order to qualify to work at this particular site,” said Williams.
Richmond Industrial Development Corporation Executive Director David Stipes says the City of Richmond is working to attract new industries to Madison County, and that the area is working hard to ensure the workforce stays in the region.
“The entire community–here in Richmond, Berea, and Madison County, as well as the surrounding communities are all working together knowing there’s some potential job loss in the future. They’re all working to try to keep these folks employed,” said Stipes.
Stipes also notes that some employees at the chemical weapons facility might have previously worked in the private sector in Madison County, giving them a chance to return.
“Some of the employees that are working at the chemical operation may have worked for some of the local industries here at one time during their career,” said Stipes, “Many of those people are skilled machinists and welders and other types of trades that may have been employed at one of those jobs prior…and they may come back into those.”
Williams says the infrastructure left at the Blue Grass Army Depot after the disposal will be used as long as it doesn’t need to be destroyed due to contamination.