August 28, 2014

Elyria
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Ford to sink millions here

New ‘flex body shop` will cost at least $350 million

AVON LAKE – Just days after the Ohio Assembly Plant was on the chopping block during union contract negotiations, Ford Motor Co. is investing at least $350 million in the plant, county officials said.

Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner said Ford could potentially invest as much as $800 million in the expansion, which will include one of five new flexible body shops that the automaker plans to build around the country.

“This means we not only keep them here, but help them grow,” county Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.

The investment will mean a large-scale expansion of the plant, which already spills over from Avon Lake into Sheffield and Sheffield Lake, to accommodate the new body shop, where an as-yet unnamed vehicle will be built. The project will also include updates to the plant`s paint shop.

Kokoski said Ford and the county also hope to lure suppliers for the automaker to the area, which would mean more investment and more jobs in the area in addition to those that could be added at Ford.

Kokoski said from what she`s learned, it`s unlikely the expansion will double the current 2,600 workers at the plant, but Ford could bring in between 700 and 1,400 new employees to staff the expansion.

“It`ll depend on how many orders for new vehicles there are,” she said, adding that she did not know what the new vehicle would be.

Berner said he`s not sure if Ford will need new workers, but if suppliers begin relocating to the area those companies could create 1,000 to 1,800 new jobs.

On Monday, union officials announced that Ford had reached an agreement with United Auto Workers that would keep the plant open for at least four years. The new body shop will be able to change which vehicles it makes quickly and easily.

The expansion is not expected to sideline the Econoline van series, which Ford currently builds at Ohio Assembly. In 2005, the automaker closed the Lorain Assembly Plant, where half of Econoline production had taken place, consolidating production of the trucks in Avon Lake.

The state has been working on an incentive package designed to keep Ford in Avon Lake, but the details of that package have yet to be released.

Berner said it would likely include job training and retention credits as well as earned income tax credits. It might also include some form of tax refund for the automaker, but Berner said that would depend on the number of suppliers that moved into the area.

Avon Lake is also pitching an incentive package to Ford, and has said it would be willing to extend Pin Oak Parkway from Moore Road to Miller Road, abating the company`s taxes for 10 years and contributing $400,000 toward the project.

Ford and union officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.