Canadian Manufacturing

Green energy takes hold in unlikely places with Ford project

The single largest manufacturing venture in Ford's history will create an estimated 10,800 jobs.

September 28, 2021  by Associated Press

When Ford revealed plans to ramp up its commitment to the fledgling electric vehicle sector, the automaker chose to create thousands of jobs and pump billions in investments into two states where Republican leaders have vilified the push for green energy and defended fossil fuels.

Teaming with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford said on Sept. 27 it will spend $5.6 billion in Stanton, Tennessee, where it will build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickups. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will construct a battery factory on the same site near Memphis, plus twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky. Ford estimated the Kentucky investment at $5.8 billion. The single largest manufacturing venture in the iconic company’s history will create an estimated 10,800 jobs.

Choosing Tennessee and Kentucky for the coveted mega-projects created an ironic disconnect between the automaker’s high-stakes bet on the future of battery-powered vehicles and the rhetoric from many Republican leaders who have railed against a shift toward green energy and away from fossil fuels.

In Kentucky, where Republican state lawmakers recently joined Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in approving an incentives package credited with helping lure the battery project to Glendale, hostility toward green energy has focused on the decline of coal production and the erosion of good-paying mining jobs in regions that depended on them. The battery plants will be built in central Kentucky, a lengthy drive from the coalfields of eastern and western Kentucky.

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Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who tweeted out his thanks to Ford for its latest investment in the state, routinely lambastes the Green New Deal. In 2019, he condemned it as an “industry-killing, all-out assault on our way of life in Kentucky” and an attack on automobile makers.

Tennessee GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn said the project “will transform the landscape of West Tennessee.” Last month, in explaining her vote against a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, she said much of the legislation amounted to a “gateway to socialism — a lot of Green New Deal in there.”

Ford picked the Kentucky and Tennessee sites in part because of lower electricity costs, CEO Jim Farley said, as well as being less exposed to flooding and hurricanes than other states. Battery factories use five times the electricity of a typical assembly plant to make cells and assemble them into packs, so energy costs were a big factor, Farley said.

In an interview on Sept. 27, Farley said workers at the Tennessee and Kentucky plants will decide whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union. It’s common for political leaders in both states to actively campaign against unionization.

At the Tennessee news conference on Sept. 28, UAW President Ray Curry told The Associated Press that the union has a long history with Ford and he’s optimistic about organizing the battery factories and assembly plant.

He conceded that there’s no agreement at present between the union and Ford for the Tennessee site.

Both Kentucky and Tennessee have “right to work” laws, which stop companies and unions from signing contracts that require workers to pay union dues. Tennessee voters will decide next year on a constitutional amendment enshrining right to work and making it harder to repeal. Curry said the amendment doesn’t complicate matters with Ford.


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