Like a boy chasing after a moved-on ex-girlfriend, Minnesota elected officials flew to Michigan last week, pleading with the Ford Motor Company for just one more chance. This pitch – if you keep the plant open, we’ll give you stuff like tax breaks – didn’t work the previous dozen times and it didn’t work now.
Minnesota missed the opportunity to retain Ford’s Highland Park Assembly plant decades ago. Ford, surviving its own auto industry crisis, has repeatedly announced its plan to streamline its operations by concentrating facilities around its supply chain. In other words, vehicle assembly occurs as close to suppliers as possible, reducing costs and improving efficiency. Here, in St Paul, Ford builds Ranger pick-ups from shipped-in parts.
What we have – and this keeps getting overlooked in the blind chase to keep a Ford assembly plant at any cost – is a brilliantly efficient industrial assembly workforce. The workers have kept a middle-of-nowhere plant producing by doing their jobs better than any other Ford team. Minnesota economic development strategy should be leveraging this asset rather than chasing the past.
The Highland Park Assembly Plant’s workforce is deeply experienced, highly skilled and adaptable. Key to their success is Minnesota’s strong school system. A well-educated worker is a well-prepared worker in any industry.
Ford is moving on. Let’s use this moment to reaffirm our commitment to high educational standards and to see the Ford plant workforce as an asset that must be purposefully leveraged into new job growth.