Ford execs, Kentucky officials tout $5.8 billion battery complex: 'Our future starts now'

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Frankfort, Kentucky — Gathered at the Kentucky state Capitol building, Ford Motor Co. executives and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday trumpeted the $5.8 billion investment that will accelerate the company's move to electric vehicles and employ 5,000 people in a tiny town outside Louisville.

The plans for twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky, are part of an $11.4 billion investment between Ford and battery manufacturing partner SK Innovation.

Bill Ford speaks near the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol Building in Frankfort, Ken., Tuesday.

The companies also plan to build a $5.6 billion, 6-square-mile complex in southwest Tennessee that will employ nearly 6,000 people and support production of the next generation of electric F-Series pickup trucks as well as batteries. Together, the projects will be the single largest manufacturing investment in Ford's 118-year-history.

The 1,500-acre BlueOvalSK Battery Park is expected to be up-and-running by 2025, when it will produce enough batteries to power at least 600,000 vehicles annually. Kentucky officials believe it will make the state the largest producer of EV batteries in the country. The plants will serve as a hub for the company's North American assembly plants building Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles.

"We find ourselves at a crossroads as a country and as a company. We could wait and hope for something better, or we could choose to lead," CEO Jim Farley told a crowd of Kentucky lawmakers, media and others Tuesday. "Thanks to all of you, we're going to create a better world for generations to come. And one day, I'll bring my grandkids to visit Blue Oval City and these battery plants just like my grandfather took me to see the birthplace of the Model T."

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said the battery plants in Glendale will be carbon neutral by 2025 when they begin production and noted that the factories will be built with minimizing environmental impact in mind.

"These high-tech sustainable campuses will do for the 21st century what the historic Rouge plant outside of Detroit did for the 20th: Set a new standard for American manufacturing," he said. 

Beshear, a Democrat, said the project will be the single largest investment in the history of the state. 

"After today, everything will be different. Because our future starts now," he said. "Today it all changes. We become an undisputed leader in advanced auto manufacturing, and we're establishing the new automotive ecosystem right here. All eyes are on Kentucky, and we're just getting started."

Earlier this month, the state's Legislature passed a $410 million economic incentive package aimed at luring massive investment projects to the state. Using state incentives, Ford will be able to take advantage of up to $250 million in forgivable loans and $36 million of skills training investment.

The 1,500 acres will be transferred to the company. The funding and acreage are dependent on Ford fulfilling its end of the bargain, hitting the jobs, wage and investment numbers promised to the state — which will be measured annually, said Larry Hayes, secretary of Kentucky's Economic Development Cabinet.

A sign posted on Main Street leading into Glendale, Kentucky on Sept. 27, 2021.

Glendale, where the massive battery plants will be placed, stands to be transformed by the investment. The unincorporated community has survived for years off of tourists visiting its cozy main drag, where they can browse through a half-dozen antique stores and enjoy Southern cooking at the iconic Whistle Stop restaurant. 

Locals expect that to change when Ford comes to town. Some are looking forward to how the investment will boost property values and bring new residents to the surrounding areas. Others are concerned it will bring too much change or threaten the environment. 

"This is an agricultural community and I'm just concerned when farmland is taken up by something that will not be able to grow our food and may create some kind of environmental problem," said Loretta Cardin of Glendale, a retired school teacher whose own farm is next to a river that flows through the plot. 

"I am glad it will be a chance for people to get good-paying jobs and benefits."

Jewel-Beth Whidden and her husband own Mountain Mike's Coffee House in Glendale. She said she's not worried about the Ford investment changing the community's small-town vibe. 

"I've heard nothing but positive things. Everybody's excited. Something this big really adds value to the town," she said. "It's in Glendale's DNA to be what it is and I think this plant is just going to make Glendale as best as it can possibly be."

Twitter: @rbeggin