Kentucky hit the economic development jackpot with the announcement Monday that Ford Motor Corp. and SK Innovation are to invest $5.8 billion to build two battery manufacturing plants in Hardin County for next generation electric Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
“This is a pretty significant investment and bodes well for Kentucky,” said Michael Clark, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of Economics at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics.
Clark said the project could have similar effects on Kentucky’s economy that Toyota has had with its automotive plant in Georgetown that now employs 10,151 workers. It was established in 1986 during the Democratic administration of Gov. Martha Layne Collins.
Not only will the battery plants be a boon to Kentucky, they also should attract supplier companies, said Clark.
The state should see economic benefits from the twin plants during its construction, he said. “All of this is making Kentucky even more significant in the automotive industry.”
Gov. Andy Beshear, automotive officials and state and local leaders held a news conference at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol in Frankfort to revel in what is the largest single economic development project in Kentucky’s history and the largest investment project in Ford’s 118-year history.
Several hundred people attended the news conference, including Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes, Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker David Osborne and dozens of other legislators.
A super-large screen showed videos and graphics about the project as several Ford officials spoke to the crowd. Beshear spoke last and said, “Our future is now.”
He thanked Hayes and his economic development team, people of Hardin County and “a special thanks” to members of the legislature who this year approved a bill to add sweeteners to incentives to attract investment projects of more than $2 billion.
Beshear, a Democrat, said Monday the state is looking at four other possible projects to use those incentives.
The new project on a 1,500-acre site off I-65 near Glendale is expected to create 5,000 full-time jobs. The first plant is expected to start operations in 2025. It is part of a $11.4 billion investment by the two companies to create about 11,000 jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee. A 3,600-acre campus near Memphis, Tenn., called BlueOvalCity will deal with vehicle assembly and production work.
“It is difficult to overstate just how important this announcement is for Kentucky,” said state House Democratic leaders — Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins of Shively, Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham of Frankfort and Minority Whip Angie Hatton of Whitesburg — Tuesday in a release.
“Ford is the reason our contributions to the automotive industry date back more than a century, and now Ford and SK Innovation are guaranteeing an even brighter future as the commonwealth prepares to take a leading role in the industry’s historic shift to electric vehicles.”
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said, “The announcement by Ford to locate a state-of-the-art electric vehicle facility in Kentucky is tremendous news for our state. It will bring good-paying jobs, and it is better for the environment.
“Thanks to Gov. Beshear for bringing this once-in-a-generation investment to our state and for creating bipartisan legislation to make it a reality.”
Senate Minority Whip Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said, “A project of this magnitude will have significant impacts on the future growth of the Commonwealth and the livelihood of citizens.
Kentucky Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, has the Ford truck assembly plant in her district with its 9,450 employees.
“I would agree with the governor that this new project is absolutely transformative to our state economy,” said Adams.
“I know that Ford is an outstanding corporate citizen and I can’t say how excited I am that they are building in Hardin County. Its effects on this state’s economy will be far and wide.”
Who gets political credit?
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, also praised the project in a statement but did not mention Beshear.
“I applaud Ford for its decision to bring its new battery plants to Hardin County, which will provide a much-needed economic boost to the region and create thousands of well-paying Kentucky jobs,” McConnell said.
“With Ford’s commitment, we have further solidified our role as a world-class automotive state on the cutting edge of research and development. I look forward to continuing to pursue pro-business policies in Kentucky and nationwide that will allow great American companies like Ford to continue to prosper and grow our economy.”
Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, sounded a similar note without mentioning Beshear.
“This is a huge win for our state and we welcome the opportunity to grow our partnership with a proven leader like Ford. Their decision to expand their presence as part of their relationship with SK Innovation is proof that the policies crafted by the legislature are making Kentucky a better place to work and build a business,” Osborne said.
Louisville businessman Mac Brown, who is chair of the Kentucky Republican Party, welcomed the Glendale project and heaped praise on Republicans without mentioning Beshear.
“This is great news for Kentucky and shows that the pro-grow polices enacted by House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers and our Republican-led legislature are paying off for our state,” said Brown.
Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University, said the new investment is “definitely a big deal for the state and will be part of Beshear’s legacy.
“But I’m not sure at the end of the day if it have that big of impact on Beshear’s political future, especially his re-election efforts in 2023.”
If Republicans nominate “a strong, spirited candidate, Beshear still will be the underdog in this increasingly red state.”
Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, said Beshear is “no shoo-in” to be re-elected “but the Ford project certainly will not hurt him.
“People are always talking about the need for more jobs and he certainly has answered on that front. I think many governors in this country would like to have the legacy he has in economic development and fighting COVID-19.”