Hanford city officials got their first look at a prototype of the FF 91, the all-electric luxury car that startup Faraday Future plans to build in a former tire plant in Hanford, last year.
Written by David Castellon
When Faraday Future announced over the weekend that its first electric car manufacturing plant will be in Hanford, not everyone was surprised.
Back in 2015, representatives of the Gardena-based startup came to the Valley looking at possible sites for its plant.
“We would love to have to been in the running for that,” said Lee Ann Eager, president and CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corp.
But at the time, Faraday was looking for about a 1 million-square-foot building that could be converted into an auto factory with about 1,000 acres of land, and Fresno County had nothing available to fit that bill.
In fact, the only site in the region that might have worked was the long-vacant former Pirelli Tire plant in south Hanford.
Still, with plans to employ more than 1,000 people — a number since refined to about 1,300 — Eager said she and other EDC officials in all eight Valley counties saw the possibility of a car plant in Hanford as a potential boon for all the counties, so they worked together to show Faraday Future the benefits of starting production of its new luxury electric car here.
The company ended up choosing a site in North Las Vegas, with plans to build a 3 million-square-foot plant there. But those plans abruptly changed in recent weeks, with Faraday announcing it wouldn’t build the Nevada plant — at least for now — and a few days later announcing it had signed a lease for the Hanford facility.
And that news has not only excited people in Hanford and the rest of Kings County, but also in neighboring Valley counties.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Devon Jones, director of economic development for the City of Visalia.
“We share a regional economy,” he said, explaining that workers at the new car plant wouldn’t just live in Hanford, but many likely would commute from other cities, Visalia included.
And those workers, wherever they live, would shop, go to restaurants, get medical care and take part in recreational activities in their home communities and other Valley areas, generating added commerce among them, he said.
In addition, many of those jobs will involve skilled labor and people in high-tech careers that pay well, said Eric Coyne, Tulare County’s deputy administrator for economic development.
“Those are people who tend to invest in a community. They buy homes, and they buy cars.”
“The attraction of an electric care manufacturer is exciting,” for that reason, Jones added. “An issue we tend to face in the Valley — oftentimes we can’t attract advanced manufacturing jobs, because we don’t have the advanced-trained workforce, and we can’t attract [that workforce] because we don’t have the jobs.”
So having a big employer needing such skills come into the Valley likely will bring greater opportunities for people to train for such jobs, “and that’s a win for everybody,” he noted.
Gurminder Sangha also sees that as a likely outcome.
As the deputy sector navigator for advanced manufacturing for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, his job is to liaison with the Valley’s manufacturers to find out their needs for skilled employees and then to work with 14 community colleges in the Valley to develop programs to train people in those skills.
He said he plans to meet with Faraday officials later this month to look at their needs and to work with the community colleges to develop training programs, as well as with Fresno State and UC Merced to see if there can be additions to their engineering courses to make graduates better prepared to work for an electric auto manufacturer.
On the community college side, a lot of the workers needed will be in the industrial automation technical field, a skillset high in demand for many manufacturing companies, as automated systems and robots have become prevalent in making a wide variety of products, he said.
In addition, Faraday will need high-voltage battery pack technicians to work on the batteries that will power its cars, a skillset less widely used in manufacturing, Sangha noted.
“It will impact Visalia, Fresno, Tulare, Kerman, Lemoore,” said Sangha, estimating that the new car plant might largely draw its workforce from within a 40-mile radius of Hanford.
“I think it’s a part of an increasing trend of businesses locating in the Valley, primarily because of our geographic location,” along with close access to major freeways, said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.
He noted that Ulta Beauty and Amazon are building major distribution centers in Fresno for their online orders, and Faraday officials said one of the reasons the Hanford site was chosen was that it sits between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the two top markets in the nation for electric cars.
And the company plans to start its initial sales in the two cities, with plans to expand to other cities as sales grow.
And while the new car plant and the Amazon and Ulta facilities may not may not do a lot to alleviate overall unemployment statistics in the Valley, some job sectors likely will see improved employment numbers, Konczal said.
“The new location of these big employers is just, on us, gravy.”
Faraday officials plan to start converting the Hanford plant for car manufacturing early next year, with manufacturing happening after the middle of the year and delivery of the first cars by December.
Initial plans are to start with about 600 workers and ramp up to 1,300 within a few years if sales grow at the rates hoped.
And with the new, big business in Hanford, other economic benefits are likely to follow, including businesses that support Faraday Future setting up shop here in the Valley, Konczal said.
Sangha agreed, saying that in his past conversations with Faraday officials, they indicated they would prefer to work with local suppliers for parts and supplies, as that allows for better quality control and lessens chances of manufacturing delays from problems related to parts being delivered from long distances.
In some cases, that may involve companies warehousing tires, paint and pre-assembled parts locally, but in some cases parts may be fabricated locally, he said.
And the new factory likely will be a boon to the trucking industry, as large numbers of supplies to make the cars and the finished cars, themselves, will need to be transported to and from the site, said Sangha, who also is vice chair for education for the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance.
“That is the expected next wave of impact” from this, said John Lehn, president and CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp.
In fact, he said, the EDCs from across the Valley are working together again, discussing the possibility of commissioning a study of what Faraday Future needs, determining the businesses that can provide those supplies and services and then pitching to those businesses sites in they Valley where they may set up shop.
“We’re trying not to leave any stone unturned,” Lehn said.