On September 27, 2021, Ford Motors announced the single largest manufacturing investment in its 118-year history. Ford is partnering with the South Korean battery company, SK Innovation. Together the companies will invest $11.4 billion to create two lithium-ion battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky, and a 3,600-acre manufacturing campus in Stanton, Tennessee called Blue Oval City. Ford will cover $7 billion of the investment, and SK Innovation will cover $4.4 billion.
Ford and SK will invest $5.6 billion in the Tennessee campus, expected to employ 6,000 people, and $5.8 billion into the two Kentucky plants, expected to employ 5,000 people. For context, from 2003 to 2018, Korea invested $439 million into Tennessee and created 2,566 jobs, and during the same period, Korea invested $98 million into Kentucky and created 341 jobs. This single partnership with Ford will dwarf all previous Korean investments into these two states combined.
The partnership will allow Ford to produce more than one million EVs per year after the plants open in 2025. The move comes in part as a response to the global semiconductor chip shortage, which cost auto-makers like Ford billions. Semiconductors are necessary to create the lithium-ion batteries for Ford’s EVs, but the majority of semiconductor manufacturing currently happens in East Asia—particularly Taiwan and South Korea. By partnering with SK Innovation, Ford can bring the technical manufacturing know-how of Korea to the American South and avoid future supply chain disruptions. SK Innovation is a subsidiary of the Korean conglomerate SK, Inc., which is experienced in battery, semiconductor, and other specialized technology involved in auto production.
Ford and SK’s announcement follows several other major investments from corporate Korean giants earlier this year, such as Hyundai investing billions in Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the US, and Samsung’s $17 billion investment in US semiconductor plants. All of these investments also follow earlier nationwide trends: between 2009 and 2015, investment from South Korea supported the 3rd fastest job growth in the United States after China and Mexico. Additionally, South Korea is the 3rd largest source of foreign direct investment into the United States from the Indo-Pacific after Japan and Australia, investing over $40 billion as of 2016. Ford and SK’s investment in Tennessee and Kentucky follow a clear pattern of Korean companies stepping up investment and manufacturing in the United States.
Kimery Lynch is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa with her MA in Asian Studies.