Meet the woman leading construction in Tennessee | Rare Techy
How Ford’s BlueOval City could impact businesses in Brownsville, Tennessee
The owners of Livingston’s Soda Fountain & Grill are pondering the effects Ford’s BlueOval City site could have on their business and Haywood County, Tennessee.
Ray Padilla and Omer Yusuf, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Every time Donna Langford leaves her Stanton home — whether it’s to the Dollar Store, church or out to eat — she’s asked about updates on Ford Motor Co.’s BlueOval City.
That’s to be expected when you live in a town of a few hundred people and oversee the construction of a $5.6 billion generation project the region has dreamed of for decades.
Langford is the construction project manager for BlueOval City Ford Land. Ford Land is a subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., which is managing the construction of BlueOval City.
BlueOval City’s ground breaking event took place in September when structural steel was now being built on the site. Ford and joint venture partner SK On plan to create 5,800 jobs through the electric vehicle center and BlueOval SK battery plants in Stanton, about 40 miles northeast of Memphis.
“When you step back and look at it more broadly, we’re light years away from where we started, and I know we’re moving in the right direction,” Langford said.
March was a pivotal month for the BlueOval City and Langford. Ground leveling began on the 3,600-acre site prior to construction. Langford moved to Stanton that month after spending the past 10 years working at Wacker Polysilicon’s greenfield site in Charleston, Tennessee.
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Langford may be new to West Tennessee, but as a native East Tennessean, he has a lot of respect for his home state and expects the same in Stanton.
“I knew what to expect, but when I got here and saw how small Stanton was and how rural it was, I honestly wondered what was going to happen,” Langford said. “Everybody’s pretty excited about it, but still kind of like, ‘Oh, what’s next?’ and I’m on first name terms with almost everyone.
Becoming an engineer
A self-described “boy,” Langford knew from a young age that he wanted to be an engineer.
“I’m a real challenge seeker,” he said of why he became an engineer. “I don’t shy away from a challenge. Some of these things feel like knuckle-biting, daily challenges.
Langford remembers his father stressing the importance of math in his pursuit of becoming an engineer. School was a challenge at first, but Langford had a turning point in high school.
A counselor told Langford that he was not smart enough in math to take the courses Langford wanted, such as geometry and trigonometry. Langford said the counselor told her to take home economics instead.
It lit a fire in him.
Not only did he complete all of those math courses after a successful summer school, but Langford later became the first person in his family to go to college and receive a scholarship.
He graduated from Clarkson University in New York with an engineering degree.
“That experience set me on the path to success as an engineer … and I’m grateful for that,” Langford said.
Bringing its expertise from Wacker Polysilicon to Ford’s BlueOval City
BlueOval City is not Langford’s first massive project. He spent more than a decade with German chemical maker Wacker Polysilicon when it invested $2.5 billion in a Charleston plant that created more than 650 jobs in East Tennessee.
This familiarizes him with the challenges and potential benefits that BlueOval City could offer in Stanton when production begins in 2025.
“But for me, because I’ve seen a lot of things happen already, it gives me an idea of how it’s going to go,” Langford said. “It’s not so overwhelming knowing that there are growing pains, some people are grumpy about some things. Others have high expectations. I know it will turn out well in the end, it’s progress. It’s a comfort to me that I’ve seen the project evolve and also a lot of things that are going on inside the project. Overall, I know it’s going to be okay.”
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Construction on BlueOval City is expected to peak next summer, and Stanton employs nearly 6,000 workers every day.
In the short term, Langford manages hundreds of people on the construction site every day. He has to coordinate meetings to keep everyone on the same page and keep the project on track, which Ford believes is on schedule.
He is also aware that he cannot do it alone.
“Having that experience takes a lot of the stress out of this huge undertaking,” Langford said. “There’s certainly not much I can do about it. It takes a team. It takes a whole group of contractors and community input.
Omer Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residential real estate, tourism and banking for The Commercial Appeal. He can be contacted via email Omer.Yusuf@commercialappeal.com or follow @OmerAYusuf on Twitter.