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Tennessee lawmakers question Ford incentives package, Memphis Regional Megasite authority

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 5:10 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - The state of Tennessee and Ford Motor Company are ready to get work going at the Memphis Regional Megasite.

First, lawmakers must approve nearly $900 million in incentives.

The group is in Nashville this week for a special legislative session, reviewing bills that would kickstart development.

On day two of a special legislative session, the state fielded questions about the incentives for the companies coming to the Memphis Regional Megasite.

One of those questions was how much could taxpayers really be paying.

“I’ve seen the numbers on this creep from $500 million to closing in on a billion now,” said Senator Frank Niceley (R-District 8).

A House and Senate bill breaks down the more than $800 million in incentives for Ford Motor Company and partnering company SK Innovation to build a facility at the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County. They include a $500 million capital grant, $200 million for road improvements in surrounding counties, and $40 million to build a technical college on the site.

After announcing Ford’s plan to come to Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee says the company was given a $500 million incentive.

Some lawmakers Tuesday asked the governor’s office how the incentive went from $500 million to nearly $900 million.

“Regardless or not of whether we landed the Ford deal or any other deal, we would have the obligation, if we were ever going to develop this piece of property, to install wastewater, to deal with the roads,” said Brandon Gibson, COO of Lee’s office.

Other lawmakers wondered about the company following through with the investment and the promise to create more than 5,700 jobs.

“Ford and the (joint venture) partner must hire 90 percent of the 5,760 jobs on the 10th anniversary date of the accountability agreement to avoid claw backs,” said Representative Ron Gant (R-Piperton).

“I’d like to see a hard cap on how much tax dollars we’re going to put,” Niceley said.

The special session is also considering a bill that would approve the formation of a Megasite Authority of West Tennessee.

The group would have the power to make decisions dealing with nearly everything on the site, from land use to managing and promotion. The bill was heard in several committees Tuesday where many West Tennessee committee members urged the inclusion of West Tennessee residents in the group.

“I think it’s really important to hear from the voices of the county mayors and county commissioners who are there on the grounds,” said Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

“I would urge those who have the power to make appointments to consider folks from that area,” said Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis).“They have been in the trenches for a long time.”

The bill says the authority would be made up of a board of seven people with half appointed by either Lee or members of the General Assembly. Tuesday, a Senate amendment bumped that number up to nine people.

Representative Kevin Vaughn of Collierville questioned why the board was being created so quickly. He mentioned the joint venture between Ford and SK Innovation, though heavily publicized, has not been made official on paper by the two companies.

“Someone has told us we’re going to Disneyworld and we’re all excited, but then we found out the route we’re taking, so you have to stop and see if that’s the best way to go,” Vaughn said.

“Ford Motor Company is in an enormous hurry, as is every other company, that’s trying to build out either the electric vehicle or electric vehicle parts,” said Bob Rolf, Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development.

“As excited as I am, I want to tie up every loose end,” Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) said.

The full House and Senate are expected to meet Wednesday.

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