More than 200 people packed LeMoyne-Owen College’s auditorium on Wednesday morning in Memphis for an information session on Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion BlueOval City project in nearby Haywood County.
Several key Ford executives involved with BlueOval City spoke for about 45 minutes on various subjects such as the company’s commitment to the electric vehicle “revolution,” building out a long-term workforce development pipeline and local contracting efforts on the project. BlueOval City is located about 50 miles northeast of Memphis.
“This will be our single largest thing that we’ve done in our history at Ford Motor Co.,” said BlueOval City Project Manager Ermal Faulkner. “Just in terms of the scale and what we’re trying to do is extraordinary.”
It’s been nearly 11 months since Ford officials and South Korean company SK On announced the BlueOval City project to produce the next generation of F-Series electric trucks and electric vehicle batteries at a 3,600-acre site in Stanton. The project is expected to create about 5,800 jobs with a scheduled production opening of 2025.
This is the second in a series of BlueOval City community meetings with the first one held in Brownsville last month. Here are three key takeaways from Ford’s “Building BlueOval City: Where We Are Today and a Look Forward” event.
Ford in Tennessee: Ford's BlueOval City: What's the latest on construction in West Tennessee?
BlueOval City key to Ford’s electric vehicle revolution
Ford has made several notable decisions in recent months to solidify its long-term presence in the growing, competitive electric vehicle market.
BlueOval City is Ford’s first new plant – much less electric vehicle plant – in decades and integral part of those efforts.
The Detroit auto giant also previously announced plans to invest $50 billion in electric vehicles between now and 2026. Ford’s long-term goal is to produce 2 million EVs annually by 2026, about one-third of the company’s global volume.
Ford also created multiple new business units including Ford Model e, which will develop battery electric vehicles and connectivity. This is all to better position themselves against Tesla, the company’s biggest rival in the EV industry.
Kel Kearns is the BlueOval City plant manager and has been with company for 28 years. He spoke to the audience about how EVs are Ford’s future.
“BlueOval City is that opportunity for Ford to be a leader in that electric vehicle revolution,” Kearns said. “When you think about it, this electric vehicle revolution is probably the single biggest thing that’s happened in the history of Ford Motor Co. since it was founded back in 1903. Electric vehicles are smart, and they’re connected. That means they can deliver many more experiences to the customer than an existing gas vehicle can.”
Ford on building a workforce development pipeline for BlueOval City
Ford Workforce Development Manager Andy Bianco said the company’s goal is not to solely establish a workforce pipeline when production begins in 2025, but one that is in place long beyond that.
He said Ford has met with state and local institutions and various community organizations throughout the region. Another key part of workforce development efforts will be a new $40 million Tennessee of College Applied Technology campus adjacent to the Haywood County project off Exit 42 on Interstate 40.
“So far, we’ve met with over 20 universities, seven of which are Historically Black Colleges (and Universities),” Bianco said. “We’ve met with over 30 school districts in your state and met with many counties and cities throughout (the area) … We’ve also attended two eighth grade expos showing the next generation what manufacturing is offering.”
Ford's Blue Oval City: 5,800 workers needed: How Tennessee is helping to build Ford's Blue Oval City workforce
When asked about hiring prior to the plant’s opening, BlueOval SK Battery Plant human resources manager Neva McGruder Burke said the company has a “ramp up” plan with engineers and operations management at the top of the list. She did not offer an immediate timeline on when Ford would start hiring for those specific positions.”
“We’re gonna continue along the ramp up plan and adding jobs to the portfolio to be able to fill those jobs as we go along,” Burke said. “There’s very detailed plans for that.”
Ford on local contracting for BlueOval City project
Michigan-based Walbridge is BlueOval City’s general contractor for the construction phase.
Ford remains confident the project’s timeline remains on course for its 2025 opening. An estimated 2,000-plus construction workers are expected to be onsite by October with the peak number of 5,500 workers next summer.
Faulkner said the company is also hiring local contractors to assist with construction.
“We’re looking to hire and leverage as much as we can locally,” he said. “We are bidding things competitively, so we aren’t playing favoritism. We’re to open to working with everyone that has an opportunity to bring something us that we can make it a win-win for the community.”
He also spoke about the importance of diversity in local contracting on BlueOval City.
“To date, in terms of purchase orders, we’re spending almost half, if not more than half on diversity businesses,” Faulkner said. “It is a commitment, but we are open to doing business with people in the community and leverage that.”
Omer Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residential real estate and tourism for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached via email Omer.Yusuf@commercialappeal.com or followed on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: ford officials speak about blue oval city project in memphis