Lesa Tard anticipates that the clean energy revolution will bring more hot wings and cheeseburgers to Stanton with Ford’s plans to build a factory to produce electric pickups. So she’s planning to grow alongside the tiny West Tennessee town.
Her diner is strategically located at the busiest intersection in the 450-person community, and she is excited to serve the thousands of workers who will arrive once construction begins on a sprawling vehicle and battery manufacturing complex. Stanton is one of two small Southern towns that are likely to undergo dramatic transformations as a result of Ford’s announcement on Monday that it will place Stanton and Glendale, Kentucky, at the heart of its plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.
Ford says it will invest $5.6 billion in Stanton, California, with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, to build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickup trucks. BlueOvalSK, a joint venture, will build a battery factory near Memphis, as well as twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky. Ford estimated that the Kentucky investment would be worth $5.8 billion. The projects are expected to generate 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker’s future manufacturing footprint southward.
Residents in both towns view the changes with a mix of cautious optimism and wistfulness, aware that the way of life they’ve grown accustomed to may be on the verge of becoming unrecognizable — but also prosperous.
Residents in the tight-knit Kentucky farming community ringed by corn and soybean fields were relishing the slower-paced rhythms of life as Ford unveiled plans Monday evening to build two battery manufacturing plants outside Glendale. From front porches to a general store parking lot, they wondered if those days were numbered.
Residents expressed hope that the promise of 5,000 jobs will provide more opportunities for young people to stay in the area. However, they were concerned about the problems that rapid growth could cause.
Basham, a mother of two young children, has been a resident of the Hardin County community of a few hundred people since she was a teenager. She believes it is important for the hamlet to grow, but she also enjoys the peaceful lifestyle that comes with only one main road leading in and out of town. Workers from all over Kentucky could be drawn to the plants. In August, Hardin County had a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, while the region’s eight-county unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.
At an event Tuesday outside the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford promised that the automaker will be “a good neighbor and work hard to enrich and give back to the communities that we’re joining.” According to the company, Ford has donated $6.5 million in recent years to causes that benefit communities across Kentucky through its philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund. In Louisville, Ford has two vehicle assembly plants.
Glendale’s business district, which is less than a block long and decorated with mums and Halloween decorations, is expected to undergo significant changes. Nostalgia is now the most popular form of commerce. The Whistle Stop restaurant, a decades-old fixture that serves fried green tomatoes, country fried steaks, fried chicken, and pies washed down with sweet tea, is perhaps the community’s best-known business.
According to Jamie Henley, the restaurant’s director of operations, there is already talk of opening the upstairs area for dining and creating an area for outdoor seating to accommodate the influx of workers and, possibly, new area residents. The two Kentucky battery plants will be built on a 1,551-acre (627-hectare) site near Interstate 65 outside Glendale. When Kentucky failed to land a Hyundai auto manufacturing plant, which eventually relocated to Alabama, the site was offered two decades ago.
Throughout the tenure of several governors, the state kept pitching the Glendale site and lost out on other industrial prospects until Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear landed the massive battery plants.
It will, however, come as a surprise to some. Two cats lounged in the middle of the road on a quiet Glendale side street recently, near a makeshift “Cat Crossing” sign urging drivers to slow down, oblivious to what lay ahead.