Ford considering Albert Lea site

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2002

Ford Motor Company is considering building a distribution center, with the potential for 200 to 300 jobs, in Albert Lea, City Manager Paul Sparks confirmed this morning.

The automaker is considering three sites &045; Albert Lea, Stewartville, and Menomonie, Wis. &045; for a warehouse to supply Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers throughout the Upper Midwest. Ford hopes the new center will be open by this time next year.

&uot;We’ve made a proposal to them for the site that was originally the new Farmland site,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;We are waiting to hear back.&uot;

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A Ford representative will be in Albert Lea Monday to look at the site, which is located in the city industrial park near I-35 and Highway 65 on the southern edge of town. Sparks said a City of Albert Lea delegation will travel to St. Paul Oct. 16 to meet with officials from Ford and the state of Minnesota.

The facility, around 225,000 square feet in size, would start with around 50 union workers, plus managers, transferred from other Ford locations in the region, and could eventually expand, drawing on the local workforce, to around 200 to 300 employees, Sparks confirmed.

City officials had said publicly that they were in negotiations with a Fortune 500 company interested in the site, but would not confirm the company’s identity because they were asked to keep the discussions confidential, Sparks said. He confirmed the company’s identity only after a published report in the Rochester Post-Bulletin Thursday quoted a top Ford official who said the three cities were candidates for the warehouse..

Ford is expanding its roster of regional warehouses from 10 to 21 in an effort to provide faster parts delivery across the country, the Ford official said.

Albert Lea would offer, free of charge, land in the site, which it purchased last year as a potential location for a new Farmland plant, as part of a tax-increment financing arrangement, Sparks said.

He said Albert Lea’s location made it attractive to Ford.

&uot;I think that it’s the proximity to the Twin Cities, with good freeway access to the Twin Cities,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;And the availability of land on the freeway is getting scarce north of us.&uot;

The distribution center would serve not only the Twin Cities, but other areas ranging as far west as eastern Montana and south into Iowa. The territory is now served by large centers in Chicago and Kansas City.

Menomonie, Wis. is a similar distance from the Twin Cities area, Sparks said, and although the city is slightly smaller than Albert Lea, it is located close to Eau Claire, a larger city. Stewartville doesn’t have direct freeway access to the Twin Cities, but is located close to Rochester.

The site, known as the Habben Industrial Park, includes about 110 acres, out of which the city owns about 33 acres.

The development began in 1996 when Darv Habben started the project by building a site for three buildings, including one for his own business Crossroads Trailer Sales and Service.

The city agreed to assist Habben to improve the site in 1999 for road, sewer and water services. The city contracted with Habben for the development project, but the sides sued each other, contending that the other side did not follow the agreement. The case was settled when the city assembled its incentive offer for Farmland, which

burned in July 2001.

The land is ready to receive businesses, with access to Highway 65, and utility lines in place.