Small towns brace for change, prosperity with Ford’s arrival

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Lesha Tard hopes to serve up more hot wings and cheeseburgers when the clean energy revolution arrives in Stanton, Tennessee, with plans to build a factory to produce Ford’s electric pickups.

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Stanton, Ten. –Lesha Tard hopes Ford plans to build a factory to produce electric pickups when the clean energy revolution hits Stanton. So she plans to expand with the smaller West Tennessee town.

Her diner is strategically located at the busiest intersection in the community of about 450, and she looks forward to serving the thousands of workers who will arrive once construction begins and a massive vehicle and battery manufacturing complex opens.

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Tard, who runs Suga’s Diner with her husband, said, “I see nothing but great things happening. It will be good for the area because people, once they come here to work If you start, some people want to relocate, and the community can grow.”

Stanton is one of two smaller Southern cities that are likely to undergo dramatic changes in the wake of Monday’s announcement by Ford that it will put Stanton and Glendale, Kentucky, at the center of its plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.

Along with its battery partner, South Korea’s SK Innovation, Ford says it will spend $5.6 billion in Stanton, where it will build a factory to make electric F-Series pickup trucks. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will build a battery factory on the same site near Memphis, as well as the Twin Battery Plant in Glendale in Central Kentucky. Ford had estimated an investment of $5.8 billion in Kentucky. The projects will create an estimated 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker’s future manufacturing footprint further south.

Residents of both cities watch the changes with a mix of cautious optimism and enthusiasm, knowing that the lifestyle they have become accustomed to may turn into something not only recognizable – but prosperous.

As Ford unveiled its plans to build two battery manufacturing plants outside Glendale on Monday evening, residents were enjoying the slow pace of life in a Kentucky farming community surrounded by corn and soybean fields. From the front porch to the general store parking lot, they wondered if those days were numbered.

Residents hoped that the promise of 5,000 jobs would create more opportunities for the youth. But they were concerned about the problems that rapid growth could create.

“Yeah, we need jobs,” said Nikki Basham. “Yes, it will help the economy. There are pros and cons. Glendale is a small town, you kind of come to get away. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

Basham, a mother of two young children, has lived in the Hardin County community of a few hundred for 17 years, ever since she was a teenager. She said this is important for the development of the village but she also prefers a quiet lifestyle, with a main road leading in and out of the city.

“I really don’t want to be bombarded with a bunch of traffic,” she said.

Amanda Medley said the battery plants would open up opportunities for young adults, who now have to move about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Louisville to find work.

“Not many young people live here,” said volunteer firefighter Medley. “They go to school. They go to other places. Maybe we can keep some young people with us.”

The plants could attract workers from a wider section of Kentucky. Hardin County had an unemployment rate of 3.7% in August, and the highest unemployment rate in its eight-county area was 4.4%.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford promised Tuesday at an event outside the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfurt that the automaker “will be a good neighbor and will work hard to enrich and give back to the communities we are joining.” In recent years, Ford has donated $6.5 million through its philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund, which supports communities across Kentucky, the company said. Ford has two vehicle assembly plants in Louisville.

In Glendale, major changes are expected for the business district, which spans less than a block and where shops were decorated with mums and Halloween decorations. Now, the main form of commerce is indifference. The community has a bevy of antique shops, but perhaps its best-known business is The Whistle Stop Restaurant, a decades-old fixture serving fried green tomatoes, country fried steak, fried chicken, and pies, known as Washed down with sweet tea.

Restaurant operations director Jamie Henley said that at the restaurant, there is talk of opening up the upstairs area for dining and creating an area for outdoor seating to accommodate an influx of workers and, possibly, residents of the new area.

“It’s like scratching a lottery ticket and winning,” she said.

TARD is planning its expansion. She hopes to add staff, expand hours of operation, and make her 34-seat diner bigger.

“Right now, there’s a lot of silence here. At around 7 or 8 everything shuts down,” Tard said. “At 8, it’s a ghost town. You’ll have traffic all day, all night.”

The two Kentucky battery plants will be built on a 1,551-acre (627-hectare) site outside Glendale near Interstate 65. The site was introduced two decades ago when Kentucky unsuccessfully tried to take down a Hyundai auto manufacturing plant that was eventually located in Alabama.

The state continued to pitch the Glendale site under several governors, and was defeated by other industrial prospects until Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear landed the massive battery plant.

“Everyone has known for a really long time that something is coming,” said Glendale resident Laura Taub. “So it’s not a big shock to know that one is coming. Everyone has been waiting almost 20 years for this to actually happen.

Although it will be shocking to some people. On a quiet Glendale side street recently, two cats are in the middle of the street, near a temporary “cat crossing” sign urging drivers to slow down, which is in store.

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Schreiner reported in Glendale, Kentucky.

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