GLENDALE, Ky. – 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 Monday 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 megaprojects 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.
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 Monday, 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 a Tennessee news conference Tuesday, 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 there's no agreement at present between the union and Ford for the Tennessee site.