St. Paul Ford plant closing in 2008
Ford officials said the St. Paul plant and a truck plant in Virginia will be closing in 2008.
Dee DePass, Star Tribune
Eighty-plus years of automaking tradition in St. Paul will come to an end in 2008.
Ford Motor Co., which had spared the St. Paul assembly plant in January when it announced the first casualties of a wrenching restructuring program, ended the reprieve Thursday.
Company officials said the plant, which makes the Ranger pickup, will close in 2008, as will a Norfolk, Va., facility that makes the larger F-150 truck.
The 1,885 workers in St. Paul now begin a roughly two-year countdown to find alternatives to jobs that average $56,000 a year. Meanwhile, city officials will have time to consider the type of development they'd like to see replace the 122-acre Ford campus, which occupies riverfront land in one of the city's most desirable areas.
The St. Paul workers are likely to stay on Ford's payroll until 2008, but ultimately they will count toward the 30,000 workers and 14 facilities that Ford plans to shed by 2012 in the hopes of returning its U.S. operations to profitability.
"The decision is final. The plant will be idled in 2008," said Ford spokesman Dave Reuter. The precise closing date has not been determined.
Ford won't pursue the offer made this past winter by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to create an alternative fuels research facility here. State and union officials had hoped their proposal to employ hybrid technologies would entice Ford to remain in St. Paul.
Reuter said Ford gave that proposal "serious consideration."
With the opportunity to keep the factory alive gone, city officials now will deal with Ford as a landowner that has redeveloped other plant sites.
"We hope we can create a mix of residential and retail and business opportunities in that area" after 2008, said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Ford executives last met with state officials March 30 to discuss the alternative fuels proposal. Afterward, state officials were upbeat. Reuter said the decision to close the plant was reached this week.
"We were really quite surprised. This is not the outcome we expected," said Rob McKenzie, president of United Auto Workers Local 879.
Pawlenty's office suggested the market forces at work were too powerful to counteract.
"Even though government is large and influential, it does not necessarily have the power to change markets," said David Gaither, Pawlenty's chief of staff.
Tears, anger, disbelief
Jim Eagle, bargaining chairman of UAW Local 879, said he received a phone call about 7 a.m. with the news. He quickly wrote a memo, assembled other union leaders and went to the plant to distribute notices to workers. That violated a request from Ford that Eagle say nothing until the company assembled workers at noon.
"If I had been a manager, they would have fired me," Eagle said.
"There was some crying and some anger. And some people just didn't believe it."
Later in the day, some workers who gathered at the union hall on Ford Parkway embraced, shed tears and talked in strained voices. Worker Jason Kuhlman abruptly stormed out after a union news conference, exclaiming, "I've had enough!"
The bad news might have been presaged this week at the New York International Auto show, where Ford executives talked up the fact that the company's U.S. market share slide was continuing this year, but not as rapidly as in 2005.
"So far this year, our U.S. share decline has been half of what it was a year ago," North America head Mark Fields said. "That means we're making progress on slowing the rate of decline, which is the first step toward stabilizing it over time."
Ford's U.S. market share, 24 percent in 1990, ended 2005 at 17.4 percent, excluding its luxury brands, the lowest it has been since the late 1920s.
Some observers, such as the publisher of automotive research firm IntelliChoice, believe Ford and General Motors are in for a further slide that might not end until Ford has less than 15 percent of the market.
What St. Paul and Norfolk have in common besides truck manufacturing is age and inflexibility. Both plants date to 1925, making them the oldest Ford has. Unlike newer plants, the two can't turn out different vehicles without major retooling.
Analysts have estimated that Ford would need to spend up to $750 million to allow St. Paul to easily produce other vehicles.
Unlike the popular F-150, Ranger sales have been falling, dropping 30 percent in 2004, 23 percent last year and 16 percent so far this year.
"Future product plans surrounding Ford compact pickups will be announced closer to the end of Ford Ranger production in the Twin Cities in 2008," Ford said.
No surprise, observers say
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said he wasn't surprised to see Ford close the St. Paul plant.
"The only surprise is that Ford waited so long to make the announcement and that they are waiting so long to actually close the plants," he said.
Retired University of St. Thomas manufacturing professor Fred Zimmerman said the threat of the plant's closing should have been foreseen.
"A monkey with a lobotomy could have seen this coming a mile away," Zimmerman said.
"These are efforts that should have been started eight or nine years ago. Minnesota has neglected the health of its industry as a policy issue. They seem to be far more interested in stadiums for the Gophers or the Vikings than they are having a viable place for people to work," he said.
Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson called the plant closing "unfortunate" but said it doesn't represent a big blow, since autos represent only 0.1 percent of the state economy.
The next question for Ford workers revolves around the UAW contract, which expires Sept 14, 2007. How will Ford handle salaries, benefits and layoffs afterward?
"We just don't know," the UAW's McKenzie said.
Ford's Reuter said: "This may involve some retirement, some educational and some separation packages. But it's ... too soon to get into those specifics."
Staff writers Jackie Crosby and Mike Meyers contributed to this report.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725
©2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved
+1 to what HH said. IIRC the St. Louis Plant is closing. There's no plans that I know of that they're closing the Chicago plants(one makes the Ford 500 and the Mercury Montego) and a stamping plant.
They're shutting down 2 plants...this is NOT good.
Not a good thing for Minnesota
Maybe the Govrener can put another tax on smokes for the Ford workers relief fund
The MN plant has been known for quality but I guess the ranger is going to be dead too
That's sad...doggone great truck.
I assume they are moving them somewhere cheaper? no way they are shutting down lines for the best selling vehicle in the world... Fseries trucks
There are some tough times ahead for US automakers and their employees at every level. TT