by Wesley Wright
Several questions that have been looming for Lakeland leaders and citizens alike were put to rest last week during the Lakeland Chamber Luncheon. In front of the largest crowd to date, Kel Kearns the Blue Oval City plant manager explained the impact and importance of the Ford plant. Kearns will oversee the buildup and launch of the electric vehicle plant. He compared the revolutionary next step of this factory to the 1903 Ford assembly line that changed car manufacturing forever. It will be the largest vehicle manufacturing plant in the United States.
So, what does this mean for Lakeland and the surrounding communities? One big question for Lakeland is how this will impact our growth. Central to that equation is economics of real estate which was discussed in another local paper but specific to Lakeland Kearns answered at the luncheon. When asked which Ford employees he thinks could afford buying in Lakeland he mentioned management and engineers, among others. When asked for a number he suggested around two hundred employees and by extension families. That in and of itself would not change the course of residential growth. Considering over multiple neighborhoods are underway or will break ground in 2023 such as Lakeland Meadows, Evergreen Planned Development, Heathfield at Scotts Creek and others accommodations are already underway. Lakeland Town Square lofts will serve as the home for many Walbridge contractors Ford hired to build the plant.
What about traffic? TDOT has planned for the Fiscal Year 2025 widening of I-40 from exit 18 to 385 as well as the construction of a diverging diamond at exit 18. That construction however is independent of the Blue Oval timeline and as suggested by Kearns that traffic will be more of an issue for the immediate space around the plant in Stanton Tennessee. He clarified that most of the completed product/trucks will not be transported via interstate but rail. The more noticeable impact will be for commerce along I-40, Hwy 64 and Hwy 70 from commuters wanting to shop at ALDI, The Lake District or Lakeland Town Square as some examples. Ultimately Lakeland will probably benefit in sales tax revenues but not experience the influx of population as some other municipalities further east.