October 3, 2021 ( The Kentucky Standard)- When the announcement came that Ford Motor Company was building a $5.8 billion electric battery manufacturing facility in Glendale, someone asked Nelson County Economic Development Agency President Kim Huston if she was envious of Hardin County for landing a project described as the largest in Kentucky history.
Instead, she said “I count my blessings that it’s in Hardin County, and not in Nelson County.”
Huston said there is not a 1,500-acre site available here for the new facility that will also have an educational and training complex on site.
“The Glendale property was built for something like that,” she said. “It is right on the interstate and they needed rail. We don’t have that here.”
With no bypass around Bardstown, the hundreds of trucks coming and going from the plant daily would have forever changed this community, taking away the ambience and quaint lifestyle it is known for.
Bardstown will still reap benefits of the joint venture between Ford and its Korean partner SK Innovation, much like what happened when Toyota came to Kentucky in 1986. Suppliers to the automotive giant began sprouting up in rural counties throughout the state, providing jobs more diverse than other manufacturing positions that were available.
BlueOvalSK Battery Park is expected to begin production in 2025, and Huston acknowledged there is work to do here to attract those companies that are expected to locate near it. The industrial park off of Parkway Drive is almost out of land and there are no 40- or 50-acre sites available to prospective industries.
“We have not bought anything, but two years ago we worked for a year to locate and to pick the sites that we were wanting to look at,” she said. “We have one that we’re seriously negotiating on right now.”
Most of the properties the Bardstown Industrial Development Corporation has looked at already have access to utilities. According to Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts, one parcel of land is located near a major thoroughfare and would be an easy drive to Glendale.
If any new companies decide to locate here, Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton said the city will need to improve its water supply. It is currently in discussions to purchase water from Louisville Water Company and North Nelson Water District and run lines from along Ky. 245 to an area near Houghlin-Greenwell Funeral Home, where it will connect with the city’s lines.
“The announcement for us is kind of timely because we’re right in the middle of working out the design of that project,” he said.
Effect on local industries
Huston expects workers from Nelson County will be enticed to go to Glendale because of their familiarity with Ford.
“We have workers driving an hour and 15 minutes to Toyota and, for years, we’ve had people driving to Ford and General Electric and other places in Louisville on roads that weren’t that great,” she said. “I can see the next generation, whether it be kids or grandkids, those who have been working and want to work at the place their father, grandfather, grandmother or mother worked at. I can see that being an allure, a family allure. The fear we have is we will have employees leaving local companies to go to work for Ford.”
That migration of workers could be another headache for local companies who are struggling to find enough employees. Some of them have put expansion plans on hold because they could not man their lines.
“My biggest fear with this project is that people will want to work for a company named Ford, a company that’s known to have good benefit packages and is a known entity,” Huston said. “It’s new technology.”
Her office will be working with local companies to maintain a solid workforce. Many of them, she noted, have improved their compensation packages in recent years, and may have to do so again.
Could be another housing boom
Huston expects Ford to bring employees in from existing plants from all over the country to help get the plant running.
“These are management trainers, production managers and people doing that job, and that is not unlike any other plant I bring in,” she said.
She thinks many of them will choose to live in Bardstown and there is ample housing available.
“We’ve got two or three years to get ready for that,” she said. “We’ve got some subdivisions going up and we have some extensions in other subdivisions. You go out on Filiatreau Lane and see those townhomes that have been built. You see what the Blincoes have done at Maywood.”
Heaton thought the Boston area could also see an increase in residential growth with its proximity to Glendale.
“That will increase the need for sewers out in the county,” he said. “We don’t know how the Biden infrastructure plan will shake out. Water and sewer will be part of that, and we certainly want to be ready for federal money.”
Education system must change
The technology for the lithium-ion battery is new, and Huston said it is imperative that today’s high school students who choose not to pursue a postsecondary education be equipped with the knowledge and skills to work in these jobs of the future.
“We’re talking about starting in high school with the students, re-learning our technical school and putting new types of training in our technical schools here or at Elizabethtown Community College,” she said. “We’re going to have to look into our high schools and start looking at what we’re training in our technical schools to meet what the requirements are to go into a company like this.”
There is time, she said, to prepare those in school now to be ready when the plant opens in 2025.
“We need to prepare this next group of kids who are going to graduate high school to be ready to enter the workforce for companies like this.”
By Dennis George
Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 2:01 pm