West Tennessee Towns Seek Voice in EV Factory Development

Locals are employing a tool historically used for sports stadiums to ensure they benefit from the new project as much as the companies do.

2 minute read

December 28, 2023, 7:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

Birds-eye view of a large EV factory and nearby highway, all surrounded by forest.

KarachoBerlin / Adobe Stock

Auto manufacturer Ford and a Korean company called SK Innovation have proposed an electric vehicle manufacturing complex in rural western Tennessee. Despite being promised 6,000 good-paying jobs, residents of surrounding towns are wary that the development will “change the community, suck up water and electricity, and prompt an influx of newcomers and development,”  according to Katie Myers, a climate solutions fellow for Grist.

“They are only the latest to face uncertainties with energy transition projects, which, from solar fields to wind farms, have prompted reservations about their size, industrial activity, and environmental impacts. But rather than accept their fate, the constellation of towns orbiting Stanton are sitting down with Ford and SK to negotiate a binding agreement that will ensure they benefit from Blue Oval City as much as the companies do,” writes Myers.

The community benefit agreement—a tool historically used by communities dealing by entertainment and sports developments—is a binding contract between a corporation and a coalition of local organizations that gives the community legal leverage to make sure commitments are kept.

Myers reports that CBAs are increasingly being used to address clean energy developments like this one, with several being signed just in the last three years. “The contracts resulted in projects agreeing to give preference to local hires, and in companies sharing revenue with the county in which they operate. An offshore wind facility in Maine even underwrote rural broadband access.”

Stipulations these rural Tennessee communities want Ford/Blue Oval SK to abide by include resources like youth facilities, road maintenance support, and apprenticeship pathways run by local union chapter, as well as binding assurance of proper waste disposal.

Vonda McDaniel, the president of the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, who is helping to formulate Blue Oval agreement, CBAs are a great tool to “help ensure a measure of democracy in a part of the country where voter disenfranchisement, especially in rural, Black communities, is high and private interests have the ear of state government,” writes Myers.

However, for a CBA to be successful, a company has to sit down with the community—a step that hasn’t happened yet, though the local coalition are hopeful they’ll have an agreement drafted and sit down with Ford in the new year.

Monday, December 18, 2023 in Grist

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