Coalition Fights to Keep Ford Assembly Plant Open in St. Paul

Ford Motor Company has slated its 86-year-old, St. Paul, Minnesota assembly plant for closure in September of 2011, but a coalition including environmentalists, lawmakers and the United Auto Workers union hopes to derail those plans.

On Wednesday, local elected officials and representatives of the UAW and Minnesota Solar energy Industries Association were joined by Environment Minnesota in protesting the plant’s proposed idling. They argue that the plant is ideally suited for the production of gas-electric and battery-powered all-electric-vehicles.

Environment Minnesota’s director Ken Bradley said, We are beginning to see some serious signs of federal commitment to clean-energy cars.

Bradley and others see the promise of alternative-energy vehicles as an economic imperative for Minnesota which saw its manufacturing base plunge by 11% in 2009.

Speaking before an assembly at the UAW Local 879, just a stone’s throw from the Twin Cities plant, Bradley urged local, state and federal authorities to develop a strategy for prolonging the life of the facilities by positioning it at the leading edge of the electric-vehicle manufacturing. Appearing with Bradley were UAW representative Ron McKenzie, State Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Minneapolis) and Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association policy director, Lynn Hinkle.

The coalition presented its 31-page report outlining the environmental and economic benefits of battery-powered vehicles and argued the viability of the Twin Cities plant to produce them.

The plant currently employs about 750 UAW members and their local representative, Ron McKenzie, called on officials of state, local and federal governments to develop new incentives to keep those jobs from disappearing. He said, These are going to be the jobs of the future. And we’re going to have to do a lot of work to get them here.

State Sen. Hornstein said that he and fellow Democratic State Senator, Scott Dibble, plan to introduce legislation in February that would clear the way for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to establish a grid to facilitate electric-vehicle recharging stations.

Hornstein admitted that, Right now we are woefully unprepared for such an undertaking but pointed to an existing plug-in recharging facility located at the 46th Street station for the Hiawatha light rail transit station as a humble but promising start.

McKenzie pointed to an interesting nexus between the Twin Cities plant and the electrified future of the auto industry “ namely the Ford Ranger EV. The Ranger EV is a battery-powered version of the Ford Ranger currently assembled at the Twin Cities facilities. The EV model was assembled at Ford’s East Coast plant in Edison, New Jersey until the facilities were mothballed in 2004.

The St. Paul plant was spared the chopping block once before. Ford had originally targeted the facilities for closure in 2008 but acquiesced under intense lobbying by state officials. The automaker has given no indication that a second reprieve is eminent.

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