Tennessee State Representative Chris Todd Talks Mechanics and Concerns of New Ford Motor Mega Site Deal


Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Representative (R-Jackson) Chris Todd to the newsmaker line to go through some of the issues and mechanics of the contract with Ford for the new mega site plan.

Leahy: We welcome on a newsmaker line, our very good friend, State Representative Chris Todd. Good morning, Representative Todd.

Todd: Good morning, Michael. How are you this morning?

Leahy: Well, I’m great. And thank you so much for getting up early. I know it’s been a very busy day for you in the special session. Yesterday, it began, and I guess committee hearings begin today.

Tell us where we are and what you saw yesterday in the special session in the discussions about this $900 million incentive package to give to Ford to bring 5,800 jobs and a $5.6 billion investment to West Tennessee.

Todd: Quite a bit of excitement in the Chamber, and a lot of our members have experienced this kind of boost in their own area of the state, like in Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee as well in previous years.

And so there was a lot of sharing of information. We are sharing excitement and congratulations and then really digging into the details of the bills that we had before.

We have an appropriations bill, and we also have an authorization bill that puts in place all the mechanical things for the agreements that will be had in the very near future with Ford and a joint venture with SK Innovations.

So there’s a lot of details to go through. And I’ve been going through them yesterday and last night. Trying to get my hands around the entire package and make sure we’re not missing anything and make sure every I is dotted and T is crossed.

This thing’s been pretty fast. Ford really wants to build this thing very quickly. They want to be breaking ground before the end of the year and get this thing out of the ground. So we’re excited to see that for West Tennessee.

I’ve been in touch with some of my constituents that are in the construction industry and also others that are just expressing a lot of congratulations and thanks for the teamwork that brought this to West Tennessee and to our entire state. This is going to have a ripple effect across the state without a doubt.

Leahy: Let me ask you this. You said you’re trying to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Are you going to have enough time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on this deal? I’m reading that this is scheduled to be over by tomorrow. Is that enough time?

Todd: We’re only dealing at the most right now three bills have been filed. And this was filed after the governor made an amendment to the call so that it actually opened it up a little bit.

And the third bill that we have deals with unemployment-related to COVID and folks that are not receiving the vaccine for COVID and have some details around that. Depending on how much debate there is for that, we could be here an extra day or more.

But just three bills is not a big load for all of us to work through. You just put your heads together and we’re going to have a number of committee meetings today once we’re in session at nine.

Then that schedule will be set. The path for each one of these bills will be laid out by our clerk according to our rules and state law. And then we’ll work through that process. And it will go from one committee to the other, and we’ll take our time.

It’s not something that we’re going to push through. We’re going to fully debate it, and I’m sure there will be amendments offered.

I’m anticipating that. Three days is kind of the minimum based on the Constitution, of how a bill gets filed and dealt with that you can actually be in session. And so we felt like with this number, that’s just in general, what is normal.

Leahy: I have two questions briefly. How is it that this special session, which the governor said was only going to deal with Ford Motor Company issues now has a COVID unemployment issue in it. How did that happen? I didn’t think that was in the rules.

Todd: Once he amended the call, first, he spelled out what the call of the special session was, which is very specific. And then he put out an amendment to that which broadened it just a little bit.

And so this unemployment piece has to do with the employer at the mega site. And so that’s how that particular bill was fit under this amended call because it had something to do with employment at the mega site.

Leahy: Does it have to do with employment throughout the state as well?

Todd: I think it will have ramifications there, but that’s one that I have not delved into a lot. I started reading it last night, and I don’t have my hands around the entire language of that. But I certainly can scan over that quickly if you want me to.

Leahy: No, that’s okay. But let me continue. I’m going back to the theme of the time to review this properly. So here’s my big question on this and one that philosophically I think I’m at a different point than virtually all members of the state legislature.

This is a $900 million package, $500 million of that is a straight grant to Ford Motor Company or its electric battery affiliate. I’m generally not in favor of giving Fortune 500 companies these incentives to come and set up here.

I think we’re good enough without that. Tell us about that $500 million grant. What it’s going to do. Is there a clawback provision and I’m gathering it’s a portion of this proposal that you favor?

Todd: Absolutely. I’ve had the same thoughts and concerns for a long time. Every time we meet and talk about what particular industries came and looked at, our state came and looked at this site in particular and what offers were made in the past, and where they ended up going.

We’ve lost several industries that looked at this particular site in West Tennessee as a whole. And they went elsewhere. And so as we drilled down as to the why certainly the infrastructure there wasn’t quite far along as they wanted it to be.

For example, the wastewater knowing the time frame that it takes to put a wastewater system in the ground, especially the distance on this one, to get to the Mississippi River. Then most of those industries said, we can’t wait that long.

We’re going to be up and running before you have a way to treat and deal with our wastewater. So that was a hinder. We kind of put the gas pedal on that project in order to get all the easements secured to get the plans perfected, a lot of heads put together to do that.

And that process has started. There’s already been a couple of bids out just this month for some of the lift stations that will be part of that system.

But when you have a business climate and a way of life climate that we have here in Tennessee that gets you their initial look, and it gets you on their shortlist I’m finding out. And I’ve never been in the ECD world.

I run a small business. I see things from a different perspective. I don’t deal with things on that scale. But as I’m learning from what folks in other states have said, what our own ECD folks have said, that shortlist then gets narrowed down based on one thing, usually.

And that is the incentive package. So they may look at all 50 states and other places in the world and say, okay, we’re going to build X in someplace. And we need this many acres, and we need these pieces of infrastructure.

They narrow that down to ten or 15 states let’s say. And then they start negotiating with those states, and everybody plays this game.

That’s the frustrating part. If anyone state said tomorrow, we’re not going to do this anymore. We’re going to take away all incentives. You either like us for what we have or you don’t.

(Commercial break)

Leahy: You were describing how there is competition between states.

Todd: Yeah, tremendous competition. And so when you’re on that shortlist, that narrows you down to a dozen or more states, then you have to look at, what can we offer, what’s this project worth to our state and how much are we willing to invest in it to bring a certain level of jobs and investment to our state?

And knowing all the time that your neighbors around you, whatever other states are on the shortlist, that you don’t know who those are, usually what they’re ponying up. And so we’ve seen so many industry big projects like, there’s nothing on this scale go to other states. This was one that our team was not willing to miss.

Leahy: So talk to me about this $500 million dollar grant to Ford Motor Company and its electric battery affiliate. Does the state cut them a check like this month or this week or before the end of the year for $500 million and say, we hope you’re bringing 5,800 jobs? How does that work?

Todd: Oh, no, not at all. Not at all. That’s one of the things that we’ve kind of learned from previous mistakes with other industries in our state and certain provisions that were put into those agreements and looked at the landscape now and know that we have to make sure that there’s a lot of accountability built into that.

There will be a 10-year clawback. Normally, it’s five years, which means that if they don’t produce X amount of sustainable jobs in that period of time, then they have to give the money back.

This one is stretched out to 10 years. It’s going to have a lot of specificities. Right now they’re under a memorandum of understanding and that’s it. So the contract for dispersing the money, the contract for all the details on the callback provisions, and exactly how many jobs and all of those details will be worked out in the next few weeks.

They’re hoping, I think, by the first part of November to have all of this nailed down and a contract signed. I’m understanding that Ford is already reaching out to contractors, general contractors, which folks on that scale are few.

And so they’re lining that up. And then those contractors, in turn, are setting up processes to get subcontractors from the area. I learned last night that there’s an email address that we’ll be able to share with contractors and suppliers in our area to submit their interest in the job.

And then they will be put on the list to receive plans and specifications so that they may bid on this project as subcontractors.

I think that’s one thing I was concerned about is that they’re not just going to be bringing crews in from other states and building this thing. It’s going to be that but mostly local folks and subs because this is something on the scale. It’s going to take a lot of hands like 27 to 30,000 people.

Leahy: So on the grant and the clawback, let me see if I have this right. So I think, do we cut them the check for $500 million, like before the end of the year?

And then we track they have ten years to have 5,800 jobs. And if they don’t get 5,800 say they get half of them, they got to give us, like, half of it back. Is that how it works?

Todd: I don’t know the exact formula on how that is set up, but there will be a lot of specifics there that force them to give the money back if they don’t have the required jobs. I’m looking for the numbers.

Both Ford and their partner, the SK Innovations joint venture, must hire and maintain at least 90 percent of the 5,760 jobs on the 10th-anniversary date of the accountability agreement to avoid any callbacks.

Leahy: Got it.

Todd: How those callbacks are structured, how the check is cut, and when that’s something that they will work out in this contract. And there are some other details that several of us are talking about in this contract, one of which is union labor on the construction.

I’ve seen contracts written before where they require either certain wage rates for the employees that are working on the project, or they require you to pay union wage rates and a union fee to the union, even if you’re not unionized.

And I’ve made it very clear and I’m hoping to get some solid assurance this morning as we go through the committee process, that that will be part of the contract, that that is not going to be a requirement of these contracts.

Leahy: Last question for you, state Representative Todd, one week from today, what’s the probability that this bill, that the final package has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by the governor?

Todd: I would say it’s in the high 90s.

Leahy: Yeah, that’s my take to State Representative Chris Todd. You’ve been very busy. Thanks so much for taking this time to give us a great insight into what’s going on in this special session.

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.














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One Thought to “Tennessee State Representative Chris Todd Talks Mechanics and Concerns of New Ford Motor Mega Site Deal”

  1. Jay

    So lower taxes create jobs. Well duh. How about a break for the rest of us?