Sleeping cities brace for Ford boom
STANTON, Tennessee – Lesa Tard expects to serve more hot wings and cheeseburgers when the clean energy revolution hits Stanton with Ford’s plans to build a factory to produce electric pickup trucks. It therefore plans to expand with the small town of western Tennessee.
Her restaurant is strategically located at the busiest intersection in the community of approximately 450 residents, and she looks forward to serving the thousands of workers who will arrive once construction begins and a sprawling manufacturing complex opens. vehicles and batteries.
“I don’t see anything but great things happening,” said Tard, who operates Suga’s Diner with her husband. “It will be good for the area because people, once they start coming here to work, some may want to move, and the community can grow.”
Stanton is one of two small towns in the South likely to undergo dramatic transformations following Ford’s announcement last week that it will put Stanton and Glendale, Ky., At the center of its plans to increase the production of electric vehicles.
Together with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford has announced that it will spend $ 5.6 billion in Stanton, where it will build a factory to produce F-Series electric pickup trucks. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will build a battery plant at the same site near Memphis, as well as twin battery plants in Glendale, central Kentucky. Ford estimated Kentucky’s investment at $ 5.8 billion. The projects will create around 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker’s future manufacturing footprint south.
Residents of both cities view the changes with a mixture of cautious optimism and melancholy, aware that a lifestyle they have become accustomed to may be on the verge of becoming something unrecognizable – but also prosperous.
As Ford unveiled plans to build two battery manufacturing plants outside of Glendale, residents relished the slower paces of life in Kentucky’s tight-knit farming community surrounded by corn and soybean fields. From the porches to the parking lot of a general store, they wondered if those days were numbered.
Residents seemed hopeful that the promise of 5,000 jobs will create more opportunities for young people to stay. But they worried about the problems that rapid growth can create.
“Yes, we need jobs,” Nikki Basham said. “Yes, it will help the economy. There are pros and cons. Glendale is a small town, you come to get by. I guess we’ll see how it goes. “
Basham, a mother of two young children, has lived in the Hardin County community of a few hundred for 17 years, since she was a teenager. She said it’s important for the hamlet to grow, but she also enjoys the quiet lifestyle, with a main road leading into town and out.
“I don’t really want to be bombarded with a lot of traffic,” she said.
Amanda Medley said the battery factories would open up opportunities for young adults who now often have to travel to Louisville, about 50 miles north, to find work.
“There aren’t a lot of young people staying here,” said Medley, a volunteer firefighter. “They’re going to school. They’re moving elsewhere. Maybe we’ll keep some of the younger ones.”
Factories could attract workers from a wide swath of Kentucky. Hardin County had an unemployment rate of 3.7% in August and the highest unemployment rate in its eight-county area was 4.4%.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford at an event last week outside the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfurt pledged that the automaker would be “a good neighbor and work hard to enrich and give back to the communities we let’s join “. In recent years, Ford has donated $ 6.5 million through its philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund, to causes that support communities in Kentucky, the company said. Ford has two vehicle assembly plants in Louisville.
In Glendale, big changes are expected for the business district, which spans less than a block and where shops are adorned with moms and Halloween decorations. Now the main form of trading is nostalgia. The community is full of antique shops, but its best-known business may be The Whistle Stop, a decades-old establishment that serves fried green tomatoes, country fried steaks, fried chicken and pies. , drizzled with sweet tea.
At the restaurant, there is already talk of opening up the upstairs area for meals and creating outdoor seating to accommodate the influx of workers and possibly new residents, said Jamie Henley, director of operations. restaurant operations.
“It’s a bit like scratching a lottery ticket and winning,” she said.
Tard is developing its own expansion plans. She hopes to increase her staff, extend opening hours and expand her restaurant to 34 seats.
“Right now it’s very quiet here. Everything stops around 7 or 8 am,” Tard said. “At 8 o’clock, it’s a ghost town. You’re going to have traffic all day, all night.”
The two Kentucky battery factories will be built on a 1,551 acre site outside of Glendale, near Interstate 65. The site was proposed two decades ago when Kentucky unsuccessfully attempted to land. a Hyundai auto manufacturing plant that ultimately chose Alabama.
The state continued to offer the Glendale site, covering the tenure of several governors, and lost other industrial prospects until Democratic Governor Andy Beshear landed the large battery factories.
“Everyone has known for a very long time that something is going to happen,” said Laura Tabb, a resident of Glendale. “So it’s not a huge shock to know that someone is coming. Everyone has been waiting for almost 20 years for this to actually happen.”
However, this will shock some. Recently, on a quiet street in Glendale, two cats lay down in the middle of the road, near a makeshift “Cat Crossing” sign urging drivers to slow down, impervious to what to expect.