By GINA CLEAR THE NEWS-ENTERPRISE Sep 30, 2021 Updated Sep 30, 2021
With the announcement Tuesday of Ford building twin manufacturing plants at the Glendale megasite, state and industry officials are touting the economic impact for the state.
How that economic impact shakes out in Hardin County remains to be seen, University of Kentucky associate professor Mike Clark said.
“I think it’s too early to know numbers or anything of that nature other than what has been stated in the announcements,” said Clark, who is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the university.
The plants are part of Ford’s push for its new generation of electric vehicles. The company has partnered with SK Innovations, a South Korean manufacturer, to produce batteries for electric vehicles.
Much of how the local economy will be impacted depends on how Americans embrace electric vehicles, Clark said.
“So we don’t know how this is going to look long term,” he said. “If electric vehicles really do take off and that’s going to be a major part of the automobile market, then it’s possible that these plants could grow larger than what they’ve indicated in the announcement.
“At the same time, if we don’t see the move to electric vehicles, then they may not grow much beyond that,” he said. “So it’s really hard to say what the long-term impacts are going to be.”
According to Ford, 5,000 workers will be needed for the plants when they become fully operational in 2024 and 2025. Those workers will come from the Lincoln Trail region, particularly Hardin County and Elizabethown, but others are expected to migrate to the area for a higher wage job, Clark said.
“We may see a large number of workers coming in from other areas,” he said. “That may be other areas of Kentucky or it can be from other areas in surrounding states. People will move for the jobs that will be associated with this plant.”
With that migration, Hardin County can expect to see population growth in the coming years and the need for more housing, Clark said.
“As those individuals and those families start moving to the area, they are going to be looking for houses, they are going to be looking for schools, and they’re going to be looking for other types of goods and services that will be provided by local business owners,” he said.
Because of the need for housing, Clark said property values also will be affected, although it won’t be immediate.
“As we start seeing that migration of workers coming in and possibly new businesses associated with that, we’ll probably see a greater demand for houses and property that will tend to push prices up,” he said. “We can expect property values to go up over time. It’s difficult to say how much and difficult to say when that will occur.”
Part of the announcement included an economic development package from state lawmakers to provide worker training programs through Elizabehtown Community and Technical College and an on-site training facility to the tune of $50 million.
Clark said any investment in educating the workforce is good for the economy as a whole.
“Investing in skills is a good thing because those are skills the workers develop, it helps them earn higher wages,” he said. “To the extent that those are skills that carry over to other jobs, then that makes workers more mobile. It’s something they can maintain over their entire career. Making investments in the skills of the workforce is an important part of this project.”
While it still may too early to tell specifically how the manufacturing plants will affect the local economy, Clark said it doesn’t detract from the magnitude of the announcement, being called the largest economic development in the state’s history.
“This is a pretty significant project in terms of its size,” he said. “If you go back and look at what happened in Georgetown, in 1992 they employed about 4,300 workers. This project in terms of the number of workers that are expected to be employed when the plant becomes operational, this is bigger than what Toyota was in its early years. So this is a very significant project in terms of its scope.”