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As politicians fight over Ford plant delay, local officials say they’re not worried

While alarm bells were raised following news Thursday night that Ford Motor Co. and South Korean partner SK On would delay production at the second of two massive electric vehicle battery plants planned for Hardin County, local economic development officials seemed unconcerned Friday.

“I think it’s a whole lot to do about nothing, I really do. They’re just kind of doing a, ‘Hey, we’re going to take a little longer look at the market right now,’” said Rick Games, president & chief operating officer at Elizabethtown/Hardin County Industrial Foundation.

Games said he’s confident the delay isn’t much to be worried about because the joint venture — dubbed BlueOvalSK — is still slated to fully build its second massive EV battery plant alongside the first one, which is to begin production in 2025.

News of the production delay at the second plant, which was to start in 2026, came as Ford struck a deal earlier this week to end a weeks-long labor strike and questions about strength of consumer demand for EVs proliferate.

Still, Games and other local economic development leaders did not express serious concern Friday about the change in the company’s plans. Some, with the knowledge that construction is still taking place, even breathed a sigh of relief.

“Actually, I’m glad they’re delaying this to some degree. Because from an infrastructure standpoint, we aren’t ready,” said Daniel London, executive director of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District.

“And this gives us time to catch up and plan with a little better timeline, gives us some room to breathe… This is an opportunity, not a threat,”

That “opportunity” contrasts greatly with Republicans -- staring at the final days of campaigning in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race. They took to social media Thursday night to poke holes in a central piece of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s argument for re-election in his heated contest against GOP challenger Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Together, the battery plants represent the largest private investment in Kentucky history, and Beshear has relentlessly touted that in his official capacity and on the campaign trail.

The project represents $5.8 billion in all, and both plants are planning to hire 2,500 people each.

A statement from the Republican Governors Association, the biggest organization supporting Cameron on the television airwaves, said that talk of a delay on the second plant is a “HUGE hit” to Beshear.

“He has made this a cornerstone of his campaign — and his crowning achievement is now in question. Beshear has referenced this project in campaign ads, at every chance he gets on the stump, and in debates,” said Republican Governors Association spokesperson Courtney Alexander..

“Now his major argument for re-election is in limbo because of his failed leadership.”

But it’s a different story in Hardin County.

Hardin County Judge-Executive Keith Taul, a Republican, said in a statement that the county — the plants are to be located on county land — had no plans to change any infrastructure projects related to the battery plants.

“We have heard from BlueOval SK Battery that demand for electric vehicles continues to increase in the U.S., but not at the levels anticipated,” Taul said.

“To meet demand and ensure success of the second battery plant, Kentucky 2 plant, will postpone production. Kentucky 2 will continue to be built and goals have not changed; just the time to reach those goals have been revised, according to BlueOval.”

Taul added, echoing London, that a potential delay could give the county more time to finish infrastructure and emergency service improvements.

London, a Hardin County resident who ran and lost to Taul in the 2022 Republican primary for judge-executive, said in his eight-county development district, $800 million of infrastructure improvements were needed in the next six years.

Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory said in a statement that, after consulting with the state, BlueOvalSK and other local officials, the city’s plans to deal with anticipated growth resulting from the project have not changed.

“The timeline may or may not change in regards to a population influx — that’s to be determined. We feel strongly that the same numbers are still coming as projected,” Gregory said.

Margy Poorman, president and CEO of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, said she believes local business leaders, too, are relatively unfazed by the latest development.

“We know that this is a new technology, right? So we understand that we’re dependent on the customer demand and as BlueOvalSK continues to move forward as they see fit, we are obviously excited in our community. We’re willing to continue to support (it) because these are fantastic jobs,” she said.

Games and London agreed. London added he’s communicating to area residents the BlueOvalSK project is only responding to the companies’ projections for electric vehicle demand, and that he’s “absolutely” confident that the second plant will get built.

For Games, that’s a big relief. The fact the companies still plan to put up the investment to build the second plant is proof positive the jobs will come, he said.

“They’re committed and it’ll work out — everything is going to be fine,” Games said.

“This is not a Chicken Little situation,” London said, referencing the children’s story about the sky falling.

“This is an opportunity, not a threat.”