Gov. Nixon visits Columbia plant, aims to keep Ford in Missouri

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | 12:22 p.m. CDT; updated 8:38 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 18, 2010
Gov. Jay Nixon calls for a special session, while visiting Dana Holding Corp. auto parts plant in Columbia on Tuesday. Nixon wants lawmakers to pass legislation providing tax incentives for Ford Motor Co.’s suburban Kansas City plant. Dana makes axles for Ford.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon visited a local manufacturing plant Tuesday morning as part of an effort to promote legislation that would encourage the Ford Motor Co. to stay in Missouri.

"We must protect our existing automotive jobs and position Missouri as a hotbed of production for next-generation vehicles," Nixon said.

The visit took place at the Columbia-based Dana Holding Corporation's auto parts plant, which supplies Ford with many of its products. Nixon spoke to a diverse crowd that included plant employees, plant management and the press. During his speech, Nixon stressed the importance of keeping Ford in the state.

"It is clear that Ford is going to make a decision in the coming weeks" about how it will restructure its manufacturing processes, Nixon said.

Nixon is attempting to overcome a stalemate that took place in the last few days of the legislative session. The Missouri Automotive Manufacturing Jobs Act — aimed at persuading Ford to keep its Claycomo assembly plant in the state by offering tax credits — stalled in the Senate, and a separate bill that could be used to fund the act stalled in the House of Representatives.

Because the jobs act did not pass in the legislature, other states have come forward in attempts to lure Ford away from Missouri, Nixon said. Missouri needs to "sharpen its economic tools" and move fast to keep Ford, Nixon said.

The governor said he has been working with the General Assembly to get the jobs act passed and to fund it, saying it is "vital" for Ford to know what kind of incentives the state can offer.

If legislators can reach a consensus, Nixon said he would be willing to call a special legislative session. Nixon said he hopes for the legislature to enter a special session by the last week in June.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, attended the speech, and said he would like to get more of a commitment from Ford before incurring the costs of holding a special legislative session.

A change to the state's pension plan has been proposed as one of the options to fund the jobs act. Under this plan, the state would pay new employees less, in addition to implementing other cost-cutting measures. Nixon called the pension bill the "most likely" of the proposed funding ideas.

The proposed pension plan change was a sticky issue during the legislative session, and some lawmakers who attended Nixon's speech remained opposed to it as a way to fund the jobs act.

"I very much want the Ford deal," said state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, , but he said the money garnered from the pension bill would be "nowhere near enough" to fund the jobs act.

Schaefer, who also opposed the pension bill, said he is concerned about an act that would give Ford incentives, but then "close the barn door" to other companies looking at Columbia. He said the act did not include options for high-tech jobs like data centers, and would use up money that could be offered to other companies.

While legislators debate the jobs act, employees at the Dana plant anxiously await a decision.

The plant employees 143 people and is "very, very dependent on keeping Ford at Claycomo," plant manager Mark Howard said.

The plant would have to cut approximately 40 to 50 employees if Ford did not stay in Missouri, Howard said.

Although the plant does a lot of business with other companies, such as shipping products to Nissan factories in Missouri and Tennessee, Howard said it would hurt Dana's workforce a "great deal" if Ford left.

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