Longtime Ford Employee Hopes Louisville Plant Survives Hard Times

By Jeff Tang

(LOUISVILLE) -- With two major assembly plants that employ about 9,000 workers, Ford Motor Company is a critical part of Louisville's economy. But Ford has fallen on hard times lately, leaving employees in Kentuckiana worried about the future of one of the city's last industrial giants. WAVE 3's Jeff Tang investigates.

Louie sexton knows a thing or two about Ford's history in Louisville -- he's been an employee for more than half of it.

"It'll be 53 years on May the Fifth," Sexton says.

Sexton lived on a farm as a teen, but didn't like farm life. So he traveled into the city, applied for a job with Ford, and was accepted shortly after.  Now Louie has been at Ford longer than anyone else at the assembly plant.

It turns out, Sexton works for a company with a history that is just as remarkable.

Ford Motor Company's roots in the city began by building 12 model Ts a day in 1913. Now Ford builds hundreds of thousands of vehicles each year out of its two plants in Louisville, including the Ford Explorer and F-Series trucks -- two of the most successful vehicle models of all time.

The company's success here has helped bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic stimulus into the city.

"Outside of Michigan -- Dearborn and that region -- Ford has more employees in Louisville Kentucky than anywhere else in the world," says Darryl Snyder with Greater Louisville Inc.

According to Snyder, Ford's true economic impact goes beyond its employees, thanks to the trickle effect it has on other local business.

"Ford attracts suppliers here," he says. "It just spreads throughout the community."

But ford has struggled as of late, losing $1.2 billion last quarter.

To help reduce costs, the company announced last year it would close five plants.

In Louisville, Union President Rocky Comito and 9,000 families held their breaths as the announcement was made.

"Fortunately for us we survived the cuts," Comito says. "I'd like to think it is because of our history, our work ethic, and the quality job we put out."

The lean times are still affecting Louisville plants -- Comito says they haven't hired any new employees since 2002. Now high gas prices and growing competition have workers here looking for new ways to stay in business.

"Hopefully, Ford will continue to see how great these plants are and bring us new products to keep the plants alive," Comito says.

"It's one of the greatest companies in America," he says. "We gotta make sure it does survive."

After all, workers like Louie sexton are counting on it. "They look at me now and ask 'are you ever gonna quit?' And I say, probably not."

"Right now we're going through a low cycle," Comito says. "We've been through it before. We'll come through this one."

In another cost-cutting move, Ford recently offered $35,000 buyouts to its older employees. The Union says about 300 workers will take the deal.

If you're wondering, Sexton is leaning towards staying around a few more years.

Online Reporter: Jeff Tang

Online Producer: Michael Dever