'We have to go big': Ford execs, Tennessee officials tout $5.6B EV, battery campus

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Memphis — Tennessee state and local officials and Ford executives on Tuesday used a lush, sprawling public park in Memphis as the backdrop to make official news that went public Monday: a $5.6 billion investment by Ford and its battery manufacturing partner, SK Innovation, to build a massive EV assembly, battery manufacturing and supplier campus on a six-square-mile site in rural west Tennessee. 

Hundreds of attendees gathered outdoors under sunny skies in front of a gigantic screen emblazoned with “Ford” at Shelby Farms Park.

The companies announced they will build what would be called Blue Oval City on a greenfield site in Haywood County northeast of Memphis that state and local officials have been working for years to prepare for large-scale development. That 3,600-acre complex is slated to employ nearly 6,000 workers.

Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford, speaking at Tuesday's event, described the move as "transformative."

Bill Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of Ford, talks about the investment in Tennessee and the development of Ford's Blue Oval City complex.

"We have to be bold. We have to go big. And we have to do it now," he said. And this is why we’re here today: to launch a new era of sustainable American manufacturing, to build electric vehicles and the batteries that power them, on a massive scale, right here in Tennessee and right here in the United States of America."

To land the project, Tennessee officials said the state will offer incentives totaling more than $500 million.

The Center for Economic Research, a division of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, projects that the project will:

  • Generate more than 27,000 new direct and indirect jobs, resulting in more than $1 billion in annual earnings.
  • Contribute $3.5 billion each year to Tennessee’s gross state product.
  • Generate $5.6 billion in spending on land, buildings, and other real property improvements, plus more than 32,000 construction jobs with wages totaling about $1.87 billion.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who also spoke at the news conference, said he plans to call a special legislative session this fall “to address funding, buildout and oversight” for the site.

"Good things come to those who wait. And west Tennessee, you have waited just long enough to find the perfect match for the Memphis Regional Megasite," said Lee, a Republican. 

He cast the investment by Ford and SK as one that would position Tennessee to lead the next generation of U.S. manufacturing and solidify the state as an automotive leader.

"I have long said that Tennessee can lead the nation, but only if we're committed to the accelerated transformation of west Tennessee," he said. "With nearly 6,000 high-quality automotive jobs coming to this region, we have kept that commitment, and we're putting our foot on the accelerator of that transformation."

He highlighted investments the state has made in the skilled trades via career and technical educational opportunities, and announced that the state plans to build a "first-of-its-kind" trade school within Ford and SK's campus.

Jim Farley, CEO of Ford, talks about the investment in Tennessee and the development of Ford's Blue Oval City complex, on a nearly 6-square-mile site in west Tennessee. September 28, 2021.

The $5.6 billion project is part of an $11.4 billion investment between the companies to build electric vehicles and batteries at two new, sprawling campuses, with the second complex to be the $5.8 billion, 1,500-acre BlueOvalSK Battery Park in Glendale, Kentucky, a small town in Hardin County in the central part of the state. The Kentucky complex will include two battery plants that will employ 5,000 workers to support future Ford and Lincoln EVs.

Of the total investment, Ford will contribute $7 billion, which it says is its largest manufacturing investment ever. The automaker has said it expects 40% to 50% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030.

The automaker also announced Monday that it will spend $525 million total in the U.S. over the next five years, starting with $90 million in Texas, to train skilled technicians to service digitally connected, electric vehicles.

The investments come amid a recent acceleration of Ford's push toward electrification. In May, Ford announced the joint venture with SK, and that it would increase its investment in electrification to $30 billion through 2025. 

Last week, Ford announced a $50 million investment in and partnership with a major battery recycling company. And earlier this month, the company said it would spend an additional $250 million to boost production of the forthcoming Michigan-built battery-electric F-150 Lightning due to higher-than-expected demand.

Bill Ford Jr., Executive Chairman Ford, and Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee, share some small talk at the end of Ford's Blue Oval City event in west Tennessee. September 28, 2021.

Meanwhile, Ford CEO Jim Farley on Tuesday put the investments in personal terms, recalling his grandfather, a Ford autoworker, taking him to the Rouge complex in Dearborn to show him where the Model T was built.

"He'd tell me stories about the first golden age of autos. Well, Blue Oval City right down the road will usher in a new golden age," he said. “One day, I’ll bring my grandkids to Blue Oval City, just like my grandfather did when he took me to the Model T plant. That was the cradle of innovation and ingenuity in America. And I’ll tell them about this very moment, this grand vision that all of you had for Tennessee that begins today."


Twitter: @JGrzelewski