Tuesday, 03 September 2019 14:17

Ford to Invest $550M in Louisville, KY, Plants

Written by Grace Schneider, Louisville Courier Journal


Amid anxiety about a global recession, slowing vehicles sales and looming job cuts, Ford Motor Co. delivered some good news to Louisville, KY, workers Thursday, Aug. 29 — a $550 million investment in its local factories and plans to retain union jobs.


Most of the spending will go toward upgrading and modernizing the Louisville Assembly Plant on Fern Valley Road as the automaker prepares to release its revamped Escape and Lincoln Corsair models.


No new jobs are part of the deal, according to the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, which granted $40 million in tax incentives in return for the planned spending and a promise to retain 800 full-time workers for at least three years.


Ford promised to plow more than $2 billion into retooling and upgrading its Louisville factories nearly four years ago when it sealed a new United Auto Workers contract.


But most of the attention has been focused on the Kentucky Truck Plant on Chamberlain Lane, where more than $900 million has paid for new robotic riveting and other advanced equipment to build aluminum alloy bodies for Super Duty pickups and SUVs.


The $550 million includes $15 million in new construction at the plants as well as $535 million in equipment and installation costs.


Ford released a statement saying it "builds more vehicles in the U.S. and employs more hourly workers in the U.S. than any other automaker — and we'd like to keep it that way. To do so, we must remain competitive."


The Detroit automaker has been working on a new generation of the Escape, a popular compact SUV that it has relied on for sales. But the model has seen slipping sales in the last year amid aggressive competition.


The company's new investment involves several safety features for the luxury Corsair and the Escape, including an Escape hybrid and a plug-in electric hybrid, plus "pre-collision assist" capabilities, warnings for "road departure" and lane changes, and automatic emergency braking.


Much of that technology has become standard in newer high-end cars and SUVs.


Louisville Assembly has 3,800 hourly unionized workers, a force trimmed late last year when 500 assembly line employees were transferred to the Kentucky Truck Plant to support a 20% production increase for the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.


At Louisville Assembly, Ford dropped one of its three shifts and indicated it would cut back production as it modified the plant and retooled for assembling the new models. The plant has been assembling cars and trucks there since the factory opened in 1955.


Since the 2008 recession, the factory has gradually added workers and increased production of the Escape.


Under the finance authority's Jobs Retention Agreement, companies such as Ford, Toyota, GE Appliances and other large manufacturers can receive incentives for continuously upgrading and modernizing their facilities if they agree to maintain payroll levels for Kentucky residents.


The latest "installment" is the fifth for Ford since mid-2007, this time pledging to retain 12,070 jobs of full-time hourly Kentucky workers, an increase from 11,200 in the prior incentive package. Several hundred Hoosiers also work at the factories, so the full-time hourly employment count now is 12,100 plus an undisclosed number of temporary entry-level positions.


The 800 jobs already have been filled, but the company's extended package now requires the investment be made by the end of 2021.


"Ford is a longtime pillar of employment in the greater Louisville area and we’re thrilled the company is continuing to reinvest in its plants and retain its Kentucky workforce," agency spokesman Jack Mazurak said in an emailed statement.


We thank the Louisville Courier Journal for reprint permission.


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