A future for the Ford plant


About a month after Minnesota officials failed at convincing Ford to keep its Highland Park plant open, the site’s future remains uncertain. As various contenders debate a multitude of redevelopment scenarios, it’s essential to keep one question in mind: what plan for the site best moves Minnesota’s economy forward?

It’s tempting to replace the facility with condos and coffee shops, as is the trend for dormant 20th century urban manufacturing facilities. But the next governor must think about job creation and building a high-tech manufacturing base for the 21st century.

The Alliance to Re-Industrialize for a Sustainable Economy (ARISE) coalition is trying to protect the Ford plan from short-sighted development. While it’s true developers can easily convert the former car manufacturing plant into commercial space, this coalition is proposing a different approach. Community organizers are excited about the prospect of turning the Ford site into something that will spur local economic development and create jobs for some of the same people who build Ford Rangers.

ARISE proposes a multi-use, community-based green manufacturing plant, that will include some residential, commercial and manufacturing space, offer on-site food production, and use renewable energy methods, including the already built hydro-electric system and sand tunnels beneath the plant that would constitute half the investment for geothermal energy.  Let’s not forget Minnesota’s high ranking for wind and solar potential. ARISE envisions a center that manufactures renewable energy components, such as wafers for solar panels and wind turbine parts.

Why does this specific group of former industrial workers and community organizers believe their plan will work? Job creation. Manufacturing sets itself apart in its ability to spur job creation through economic multipliers: for every manufacturing job created, roughly 2.9 are created as a result of economic multiplier effects. That’s more than twice as many as health, retail, and personal/business services create.

It’s a revolutionary idea requiring the site’s complete overhaul but the Ford plant is a perfect guinea pig for this new approach to community redevelopment, and it meets the group’s three principles: de-carbonize, equalize, and re-industrialize, a key component of environmental and social justice.

This holistic, community-centered, sustainable strategy with an existing facility on which to develop provides the next governor and St. Paul’s mayor a powerful tool to attract new manufacturers, retailers and residents. Now the challenge becomes recruiting the right businesses that will create good-paying jobs without using tax giveaways than undermine St. Paul’s prosperity.