Bethel Hosts BlueOval, McKenzie, County Reps


MCKENZIE IMPACT — McKenzie Mayor Ryan Griffin (L to R) and city council member Carol Armpriest are looking to the future and the impact of BlueOval City to the region during last week’s roundtable discussion held on the campus of Bethel University.[/caption]

By Sabrina Bates

MVP Regional News Editor

What is the path for employment at BlueOval City? This was one of the questions posed during a roundtable event hosted by Bethel University in McKenzie on Wednesday, Feb. 8, when McKenzie city and school officials and other leaders in Carroll County education met with Ann Thompson, who serves on BlueOval City’s workforce development team.

McKenzie Special School District Director of Schools Lynn Watkins said as the project is set for completion in 2025, they should be asking their high school juniors and seniors if they want to work at BlueOval City. If that answer is yes, Watkins asked if there were talking points available for school systems to give their students to direct them on a higher education path leading them to a job at BlueOval.

BlueOval City (BOC) is the largest single investment by Ford Motor Company. The micropolitan is under construction in Stanton in Haywood County. In 2021, Tennessee and Ford announced the development of the West Tennessee Megasite, which includes a Tennessee Electric Vehicle Center, Electric Vehicle Assembly Center, SK battery plant, a site supplier park and a Tennessee College of Applied Technology. Ford will manufacture an electric truck at its plant, while SK will manufacture and recycle batteries for EVs at the site. Just last week it was announced five more manufacturers supplying BlueOval plan to locate in Haywood County. These are considered Tier 1 suppliers. As part of talking points during roundtable discussions in West Tennessee surrounding BlueOval City, the region can expect to see the construction of Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers as a result of the massive project. Thompson said BOC representatives have spent the last year meeting with city and county officials, as well as school district representatives across the region.

PARTNERING FOR EDUCATION — McKenzie Special School District Board Chair LaShonda Williams (L to R) spoke with BlueOval City workforce development representative Ann Thompson after a roundtable discussion held last week, hosted by the City of McKenzie and Bethel University.[/caption]

“We spent about 7,000 hours in communities across West Tennessee last year,” Thompson said. She said there will be about two to three jobs created as a result of every job created specifically at the site. It is anticipated there will be approximately 6,000 jobs created between Ford and SK at BOC.

Thompson explained how the Megasite and Tennessee are the perfect fits for BOC as the state is considered one of the most-fiscally responsible in the nation. She said the project has room for every sector - from healthcare to technology - with occupations resulting to fit the needs of “where we are going.” BOC is the first “green” site created by Ford in decades and the first non-Union plant for the company. There are 2.1 million people within a 90-minute drive of BOC and 25 public and private higher education institutions. Of those, 930,000 are employed and there are 62,000 who work in advanced manufacturing. Although a TCAT is under construction within BOC, it would initially serve as an on-boarding and training center for employees.

Thompson said the companies are seeking a diverse workforce with entry-level positions to management positions and everything in-between available. She recommended Watkins and other educators tell their students to get part-time jobs to learn soft skills in preparation for a position at BOC. Electrical, painting, tool and die, assembly, machining, stamping and STEM-related positions will be available. A good promotion for school systems involves anything automotive and industrial. As this will be considered the most-technically advanced plant in the United States, courses centered on automation, mechatronics and robotics are also welcome pathways for students. The workforce sector will focus on four quadrants: technical; essential behaviors; business and functional; and LEAN (waste elimination). Those with technical certifications, such as electrical journeyman, are also needed at the facilities. Entry-level positions are available for those with a high-school diploma or equivalent. Those with certifications in things such as industrial maintenance would be considered for next-level positions. Those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a related field would be eligible for management and upper-management positions. BOC reps are working with TCATs and universities to cultivate relevant programs of study to ready the workforce. TCATs serve as a higher education pathway to earn certificates in a specific trade, most in under two years. Tennessee offers a Tennessee Promise, last-dollar scholarship, to provide two years of school funding for higher-learning institutions across the state. McKenzie Mayor Ryan Griffin thanked council members and education partners for attending the event at Bethel. Representatives included members of the McKenzie Special School District Board, and TCAT and Bethel leaders.