Pitching a plan to keep St. Paul Ford plant rolling

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON
  • Star Tribune
  • August 24, 2010 - 10:57 PM

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman will travel to Ford Motor Co. headquarters on Wednesday to offer millions of dollars in incentives aimed at persuading top executives not to close the Twin Cities assembly plant next year.

"We are very hopeful about presenting a package and that they will re-look at the decision to close the facility," Coleman said Tuesday. "We would love nothing more than to keep these jobs in the city of St. Paul and perhaps even grow the facility."

The bipartisan duo, along with Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Dan McElroy, will meet with Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, and other executives in Dearborn, Mich. After the meeting, Pawlenty and Coleman will tour the Ford Rouge Factory.

Pawlenty's staff wouldn't offer many details about the trip, but Pawlenty spokesman Bruce Gordon said they "will encourage Ford to continue manufacturing vehicles in St. Paul."

The trip is the latest chapter in a five-year effort to save the 80-year-old plant in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, which has produced the long-running Ranger pickup, a light-duty truck that hasn't been redesigned in years and is slated to end its U.S. run when the plant closes.

In recent years, the Ford plant employed about 2,000 workers, Coleman said. Now the plant employs about 950.

In June, Pawlenty and Coleman sent a letter to Fields seeking a face-to-face meeting and offering newly approved subsidies that could provide "significant financial benefits for the reinvestment and retooling of the St. Paul assembly plant to make it a modern, highly efficient, and multi-platform facility."

The letter stated the St. Paul Port Authority might be willing to buy the 125-acre facility and then lease it back to Ford, which would "provide an up-front injection of funds that could be used for reinvestment in the plant or other purposes."

Before sending the letter, Pawlenty signed legislation that offers Ford a buffet of tax breaks and job creation incentives that stretch up to 12 years.

The incentives are not as lucrative as some other states have offered, "but we think it's significant," Coleman said. He added that the St. Paul plant has "one of Ford's most productive workforces," a factor that he said could be persuasive.

Coleman said he hopes Ford either reconsiders the Ranger's demise or retools the plant to produce a new car or truck.

The recession has exacted a heavy toll on the Big Three automakers, forcing Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy and to seek billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts. They slashed dealers, brands and products to cut costs.

Ford fared better, avoiding bankruptcy and the public wrath of the bailout. Ford just finished its most profitable first half in more than a decade, earning $2.6 billion in the second quarter.

Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288

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