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Car battery plant to employ 2,000

FRANKFORT — A consortium of more than 50 companies wants to build an advanced car battery manufacturing plant in Kentucky that would cost more than $600 million and employ as many as 2,000 people.

Kentucky taxpayers would invest about $200 million in the plant and surrounding area, Gov. Steve Beshear said.

He predicted Monday that the proposed Hardin County plant would affect Kentucky's economy much the same way Toyota's arrival in Georgetown did more than two decades ago.

Toyota has 7,000 full-time workers at its Georgetown plant, employs about 1,300 at the Northern Kentucky headquarters for its North American manufacturing operations and has helped lure dozens of auto parts suppliers to the state.

"This proposal will put Kentucky in a prime position to be the country's leading manufacturer of the clean-energy cars of the future," Beshear said at a rare news conference in the Governor's Mansion.

Beshear said the not-for-profit National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Batteries has chosen a 1,551-acre site near Glendale as the location for the first-of-its-kind manufacturing plant of advanced lithium-ion batteries for vehicles.

The plant will make the batteries at cost for consortium members, paying its workers an average salary of more than $40,000.

However, the project depends on the alliance receiving an unspecified amount of funding from the recent federal stimulus package.

The consortium will apply to the Department of Energy by May 29 for a slice of the $2 billion set aside by President Obama's administration for electric vehicle battery and component manufacturing projects, said Jim Greenberger, one of the founding members of the alliance.

If it gets the money, construction could begin on the Hardin County plant immediately and probably would take about a year to finish.

Details about the Hardin County site will be submitted in the consortium's application for federal dollars, Greenberger said.

Other states that had been in the running for the plant were Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

The Democratic governor's announcement came on the heels of last week's news that the state will run a federal battery research laboratory formed by Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

The new national Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center in Lexington will help develop advanced battery technologies.

Officials said the new laboratory was a key factor in the manufacturing consortium's decision to locate in Kentucky. Argonne was instrumental in forming the consortium, which is modeled after Sematech, a group of computer-chip companies set up in 1987 to compete with Japan.

Some experts think lithium-ion batteries will replace gasoline as a major source of energy for cars and military vehicles.

U.S. auto manufacturers now depend on foreign suppliers — many from Asia — for lithium-ion battery cells.

Beshear said Kentucky's "strong roots in the automotive industry and its close proximity to suppliers, manufacturers and researchers make it a natural fit for production of the next generation of hybrid technology batteries."

He said the consortium started talking with Cabinet Secretary Larry Hayes and Energy Secretary Len Peters in January about the plant.

The Hardin County site sits next to Interstate 65 and a CSX rail line. The state bought the site during the administration of Gov. Paul Patton in hopes of luring a Hyundai auto plant.

If the consortium gets the federal money, it would create a 1-million-square-foot campus made up of a headquarters facility, a manufacturing plant used to refine products, and a larger operation for mass battery manufacturing.

In addition to as many as 2,000 full-time jobs, 1,500 temporary construction-related jobs would be created, Greenberger said.

The state's proposed investment, which includes free land and about $100 million to help build the complex, might require legislative approval, Beshear said.

He did not provide specifics about what lawmakers needed to approve, but both House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, praised the project.

Stumbo said Kentuckians might have to start referring to Beshear as "the Energizer governor."

Hardin County officials were ecstatic.

"To be involved in this cutting edge, renewable-energy project is a great opportunity for us, and the jobs created for our citizens are most welcome during these challenging economic times," said Greg Jenkins, chairman of the Elizabethtown/Hardin County Industrial Foundation.

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