State delegation to meet Ford execs about plant

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan will be part of the Missouri delegation heading to Michigan to hear Ford Motor Co.'s rationale for wanting to close an assembly plant in St. Louis, Gov. Bob Holden's office said Tuesday.

Gephardt, Carnahan and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay -- all Missouri Democrats -- are to join Holden in the hourlong meeting Friday with Ford executives at the automaker's base in Dearborn, Mich., Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said.

The Missourians hope to hear specifics on why the world's second-largest automaker wants to jettison by mid-decade the 2,640-worker assembly plant in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, where Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles are made.

"The fact that they're closing the plant in 2005 and not immediately indicates to me that there may be other issues there that we need to explore," Holden said. "What I want to find out is what those issues are, then we can develop a strategy on how to address them."

Other members of the Missouri contingent include state Department of Economic Development chief Joe Driskill, and the mayors of Hazelwood and nearby Florissant.

Ford spokeswoman Della DiPietro said the Missourians can expect to see at least Jim Padilla, Ford's North American operations chief, and Martin Zimmerman, the automaker's vice president of corporate affairs. Nachtigal said the meeting's itinerary also includes John Bozzella, Ford's governmental affairs chief, and Ray Byers Jr., the company's director of state, local and community affairs.

Holden said he believes that Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr. would take part in Friday's meeting; DiPietro said otherwise Tuesday.

After Friday's meeting, a task force Holden said he will appoint will draw up incentives meant to change Ford's mind about Hazelwood and -- if that fails -- recommend other uses for the site and seek re-employment for the displaced workers.

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