July 29, 2008, editorial: As Ford goes so goes Louisville

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Ford's decision to retool its operations includes good news for Kentucky

By The Staff

ISSUE: Ford remaining in Louisville

OUR VIEW: Benefits statewide, locally

Ford Motor Co.’s announcement last week that the Louisville assembly plant will be retooled to make the transition from the production of gas-guzzling trucks to small, fuel-efficient cars included possible good news for communities extending far beyond Jefferson County, including Hardin County.

Louisville’s economy is vital to the state’s financial well-being, even more so to nearby communities such as ours. Whatever happens there affects much of the rest of the state.

Ford’s plan to invest $100 million more in its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville to increase its flexibility to meet the demand for smaller cars, fueled by $4-a-gallon gas, represents a huge turnaround for the auto giant’s Kentucky operations. Just a couple years ago the city’s two Ford plants were considered candidates for closure. That would have meant the loss of 6,000 jobs.

While posting its worst quarterly performance in history, losing $8.7 billion in the second quarter of this year, Ford has been making plans to produce six gas-stingy European models in the United States, rather than attempt to import them at prohibitively high costs. In addition, plans were made to move the production of Lincoln Navigators and Ford Expeditions next year from Michigan to Louisville where the vehicles will be assembled alongside the Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

That’s good news in a region of the country where local economies are heavily invested in producing parts for the auto and truck industries, including Hardin County where factories produce frames, brakes and windows.

But it’s not a sure thing. To benefit from the vehicle down-sizing sweeping this country, parts manufacturers and suppliers will have to be willing to make similar investments and assembly line modifications to accommodate the demands for lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Manufacturers that demonstrate the willingness and ability to make those accommodations will be the first to be rewarded by being in demand themselves.

In addition to Ford’s investment, the state and Jefferson County are about to offer incentives to help maintain the company’s interest in continuing to operate in Kentucky. Negotiations have been under way for months and details will be made public in a few weeks, as they should be. Such incentives should be considered worthwhile investments, but no detail should be withheld. In addition, the city and state are preparing a proposal to retrain Ford employees who will produce the new vehicles.

Unfortunately, retooling the plants will require them to be shut down for possibly extended periods during the transition process, likely forcing temporary layoffs and furloughs.

Despite such sacrifices, that has to be considered better than the alternative — mothballing the plants leaving thousands without work, permanently.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.