Ford news: the talk of Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2002

With news that Ford Motor Company may build a parts distribution warehouse in Albert Lea, residents have been a buzz.

The public reaction to the possibility has been very positive. Bryan Bailey exclaimed, &uot;Are you serious?&uot; upon reading the headline of the Ford story on the front page of the Friday Tribune.

&uot;This is an excellent opportunity for Albert Lea. To bring in a Fortune 500 company like Ford is great,&uot; he said.

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City Manager Paul Sparks confirmed Friday that Ford Motor Company was considering Albert Lea for the warehouse. He said that Albert Lea, Stewartville and Menomonie, Wis. are the three cities being considered by Ford at this point.

Albert Lea is offering the Habben Industrial park to Ford with tax increment financing (TIF) which will give the site to Ford, to be paid back through taxes.

Sparks said the company plans on a 225,000-square-foot warehouse that would employ about 50 workers at start and could eventually grow to between 200 and 300 workers.

Many city officials have cautioned not to let the excitement over the possibility get hopes extremely high. A decision will not be made until after Oct.16, a date when Ford, Albert Lea and Stewartville will all meet to go over the incentives the state and the respective cities can offer to Ford.

Ford global planning manager, Kent O’Hara, told the Austin Post Bulletin that one key factor Ford is looking for is the ability to build the warehouse as soon as it can.

Sparks said the Habben site has all the infrastructure, such as sewer and water lines, in place. &uot;We’re very well prepared. They could start building tomorrow,&uot; he said.

Sparks said he believes that Stewartville may not be in the same state of readiness but didn’t know about the Menomonie site.

The warehouse is a step in modernization for Ford, according to Sparks. He said the warehouse plan is part of a nationwide project to get &uot;next day part delivery instead of next week.&uot; With two warehouses in Kansas City and Chicago, the new warehouse would act as a point for distribution for the northwest section of the Midwest, according to Sparks.

Greater Jobs Executive Vice President Pam Bishop said there are already several developers who have shown interest in bidding for the possible project.

&uot;We’re obviously thrilled to be one of the final communities for consideration in this process,&uot; said Bishop. &uot;We’re eager to see what other requests Ford might have of us and to see how we can fulfill those requests.&uot;

The Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) is working as well to give incentives to Ford to get the warehouse in Minnesota. Mark Lofthus, director of marketing and business development for the DTED, said &uot;We’re looking very aggressively to get assistance.&uot;

Minnesota is working with both Albert Lea and Stewartville. &uot;Both sites are sites we’ll support in any way we can,&uot; said Lofthus.

Restaurants around Albert Lea were full of dialogue Friday afternoon and Saturday morning on the Ford story.

At Abrego’s Cafe Friday afternoon, customer Jim Pilgrim said, &uot;I’m

glad we’re being aggressive, that we have the room and I hope that we’ll get it here.&uot;

Saturday morning the Hy-Vee grocery store restaurant was packed with customers, many of who responded quickly and positively when asked what they thought of the possibility.

&uot;It’s just fantastic, &uot; said Dale Neitzel. &uot;Ford is a big name and I’m sure will create some good, well-paying jobs.&uot;

Another customer, Dick Polley, &uot;We all are praying it will come. Everyone would like to see it here. It’d be great for our local economy.&uot;

Mayor candidates Jean Eaton and Mark Anderson both said they were very excited about the news.

&uot;This community, after losing 500 jobs last year, could really use the jobs,&uot; said Anderson. &uot;These will be union jobs which usually have good pay and great benefits.&uot;

&uot;It makes us refocus on housing and the other things that go with redevelopment,&uot; he said. Anderson said that finding more land for development should be the next step for the city if they get Ford. He said he believe the step is the first in many for Albert Lea. &uot;We can’t rest on our laurels,&uot; he said.

Eaton said she is excited about the potential warehouse. She believes that the city and Greater Jobs have done all they can to get Ford. She said, &uot;At this point it is out of our hands; it is in the state’s hands.&uot; Eaton said she is a bit hesitant to get too excited about it because, &uot;it isn’t a done deal yet.&uot;

&uot;It would fill the void for our unemployed,&uot; she said.

According to Albert Lea Workforce Development Center representative Mike Miller, the opportunity for work is much needed. &uot;We have a fairly high amount of unemployed people in Albert Lea and it would be nice to get work for them,&uot; he said.

Mayor Bob Haukoos consented to that idea. &uot;This is something badly needed in Albert Lea,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ll do what we can to bring this to fruition.&uot;