Whitmer: Michigan lacked 'real opportunity' to compete for Ford plants

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suggested Wednesday that Michigan wasn't given a "real opportunity" to compete for a portion of Ford Motor Co.'s $11.4 billion electric vehicle and battery investment announced this week.

Under the Michigan-based company's plan, which was unveiled Monday, Ford expects to establish two "massive" campuses focused on electric vehicles in Tennessee and Kentucky and create with battery manufacturing partner, SK Innovation, more than 11,000 jobs in those states.

"In terms of us having tools that we need to be competitive, I'm always looking to make Michigan more competitive," Whitmer told reporters on Wednesday. "And (I'm) always eager to put solutions on the table. But we needed a real opportunity to do that. And that really wasn't the case here."

Ford is headquartered in Dearborn. During a Tuesday briefing, Quentin Messer Jr., CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the state was "not actively involved" in the siting of Ford's new plans.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford told The Detroit News on Tuesday that Michigan "of course" was seriously considered for the projects: "But we've made over a $7 billion commitment to Michigan, and we've always spread our footprint. Will we do future things in Michigan? Of course. Michigan is our home. The magnitude of our investment in our home state is enormous and will continue to be."

Location decisions for the new plants were based on several factors, including size, shovel-readiness, transportation and proximity to other electric vehicle sites, said Martin Günsberg, a Ford spokesman.

"Michigan did not have the type of sites needed for this project, so they were not part of the formal bid process," Günsberg added.

Ford CEO Jim Farley echoed that stance on Twitter Wednesday afternoon. 

"We love Michigan & have invested +$7B in Michigan since 2016," he wrote. "In this case, KY & TN had unique sites that were large, shovel ready with many other advantages. If a MI site had met our criteria, we know the state & DTE would have worked extremely hard to make a competitive bid."

DTE Energy retweeted Farley and added, "Thanks for your confidence in DTE, Jim. Had Ford selected a site in Michigan, we would have worked with your team and offered competitive energy pricing."

Michigan's electricity prices are one factor that puts the state at a disadvantage for such projects. In July, the average industrial price of electricity per kilowatt-hour in Michigan was 8 cents compared with the national average of 7.53 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Tennessee's price was 5.85 cents, Kentucky's was 6.06 cents and nearby Ohio's was 6.63 cents.

Leaders of Tennessee and Kentucky trumpeted the Ford investments this week, saying they amounted to signs their states are becoming leaders in the electric vehicle manufacturing race.

Whitmer said "a lot of factors" went into Ford's decision and the choice looked more like a "site selection" than a "state selection."

"Michigan is always going to put a competitive alternative on the table when we are given an opportunity to," Whitmer said.

The Kentucky General Assembly passed a $410 million economic incentive package this month 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. Tennessee officials said the state will offer incentives totaling more than $500 million for the related projects there.

Last week, members of Whitmer's administration touted their efforts to make Michigan a leader in electric vehicle manufacturing while detailing plans to develop a road trip route for electric vehicle owners along Lake Michigan.


Staff Writers Breana Noble, Jordyn Grzelewski and Riley Beggin contributed.