U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on Tuesday touted the Volunteer State’s role in America’s electric vehicle future during a visit to the Ultium electric vehicle battery factory construction site in Spring Hill, Tenn.
The facility, which is set to open in the third quarter of 2023, will produce battery cells to power General Motors electric vehicles.
“What the workers here are doing here today, you’re building the infrastructure for America,” Walsh said. “It’s the future of clean energy.”
GM president Mark Reuss: After pouring billions into electric vehicles in Tennessee, GM says there’s ‘more to come’
The plant represents GM — and the auto industry as a whole — shifting toward an all-electric future. President Joe Biden has called for half of all American auto sales to be electric by 2030.
GM hopes to adopt an all-electric portfolio by 2040.
Tennessee stands to be a major player in that transition. Ford is investing $5.6 billion in the Blue Oval City, a 4,100-acre electric vehicle and battery campus near Memphis, and Volkswagen has launched a $33 million battery engineering lab to test electric vehicle technology in Chattanooga. In May, GM launched the all-electric Cadillac LYRIQ at its Spring Hill plant.
“If you talk to older people in any town in Tennessee or any part of the country that used to have manufacturing, they talk about the boom of that neighborhood,” Walsh said. “What we’re seeing right now with Pres. Biden’s focus is getting those manufacturing jobs back.”
The 2.8 million-square-foot Ultium facility, a joint venture between GM and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution, was announced in April 2021. It will be a separate facility from GM’s Spring Hill vehicle plant and create 1,300 new jobs in Tennessee, according to the company.
Walsh visited the construction site with plant director Tom Gallagher, United Autoworkers President Ray Curry, Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and other labor representatives in Tennessee.
“Whatever else this project is, it is an enormous creator of green jobs that are also good, middle-class unions jobs,” O’Sullivan said Tuesday. “These jobs are pathways to the middle class for our members and for all of our building trades brothers and sisters.”
Walsh visited Tennessee as part of a larger swing through the South to discuss Biden’s domestic agenda. During the visit, he pitched H.R. 4521, dubbed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which he said is a bipartisan bill that will bolster American manufacturing. The bill provides funding in a variety of areas, including semiconductor research and production, supply chain innovation, infrastructure programs and space exploration.
“These companies made a conscious decision to build a battery plant here in Tennessee,” Walsh said. “Batteries for American cars, American vehicles, and hopefully we’re shipping these batteries to ship overseas to put in foreign cars.”
The Labor Department reported 372,000 new job creations and a 3.6% unemployment rate in its jobs report for June, both positive signs for the American economy. However, employers in states like Tennessee have complained about the difficulty of hiring and retaining workers, especially in service industry jobs.
Walsh suggested that employers could attract talent with higher wages. The Ultium plant, he said, will provide high-paying union jobs.
“I was in the Delta region of the Mississippi last week, and I was talking to a group of domestic workers,” Walsh said. “I asked them, what was a good salary to earn? They said $15 an hour.
“You can barely raise a family on $15 an hour. We need to respect the American worker. Workers need to be paid more. We need to support the industries.”
Cole Villena covers Williamson County at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee. Reach Cole at email@example.com or 615-925-0493. Follow Cole on Twitter at @ColeVillena and on Instagram at @CVinTennessee.