- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

RICHMOND — About 2,500 workers have learned that Ford Motor Co. plans to close its Norfolk pickup truck plant in two years.

“A decision to end production at a plant is not an easy one and I’m deeply mindful of the impact this decision has on Ford employees, families and communities,” said Mark Fields, Ford executive vice president.

The nation’s second-largest automaker announced in January that it would cut as many as 30,000 jobs and close operations at 14 plants by 2012. Since then, Ford has announced that it will shutter plants in Michigan, Missouri, Georgia, Ontario and Ohio.

Ford’s bigger rival, General Motors Corp., also is in the midst of a major restructuring and plans to cut 25,000 jobs and close 12 plants by 2008.

Union leaders learned of the decision Wednesday, and the automaker announced its plans yesterday afternoon. The plant, which opened in 1925 and employs 2,275 hourly and 158 salaried workers, builds the F-150 pickup truck, the company’s best-selling model. Ford said it also will close its St. Paul, Minn., facility in 2008.

Ford officials said it still would have plenty of capacity for F-series pickups, adding that it is on track to sell more than 900,000 of the trucks for the third year in a row.

The Norfolk plant is one of three across the United States that produce the Ford F-150 truck. Last year, it won the J.D. Power and Associates award for top product quality, and in 2003 it introduced the newest version of the F-150. But the other two plants where the truck is assembled, Kansas City, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich., also build other vehicles.

“We were surprised and disappointed by the announcement,” said Rod Woolard, director of development for the city of Norfolk. “We’ve taken great pride in our plant because it has been recognized as one of Ford’s most productive plants.”

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said he had been concerned that Ford would close the plant.

When Ford announced its intentions to close facilities, Mr. Kaine traveled to Detroit to talk with the automaker’s executives, but could not get any reassurance that the Norfolk plant was safe, he said.

“It was bad news today,” Mr. Kaine said. The plant has been a “lifeblood of the economy in Hampton Roads.”

Henry Ford handpicked the site in 1921, and the plant started producing sedans and station wagons four years later.

Mr. Kaine said he will be working with Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and other local officials to see what can be done to reverse the decision and create other jobs in the area.

One prospect, Mr. Kaine said, is moving some people into jobs at the Maersk port terminal line in nearby Portsmouth.

“We’re not giving up,” Mr. Woolard said. “We’re going to go down fighting. We think we have some time to work on Ford Motor Co. to revisit their decision.”

Ford shares rose 7 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $7.35 on the New York Stock Exchange, but are closer to the lower end of their 52-week range of $7.13 to $11.48.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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