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Ford Claycomo workers prepare to build the new Transit van

Updated: 2014-01-21T21:58:21Z

By STEVE EVERLY

The Kansas City Star

Ford’s Claycomo plant is humming a little louder as 1,000 additional employees train and prepare to build the Transit commercial van.

Production is scheduled to begin in March, and 175 more employees will join the workforce as that date approaches. A second Transit shift is planned by the end of the year when 800 additional workers are to be hired.

The company is making no promises, but if the Transit is a hit, a third shift could eventually be added.

“We build to customer demand,” Dan Jowiski, manager of the Claycomo plant, said Friday.

By the end of this year, the plant should have 5,400 hourly and salaried employees, including the three shifts building the F-150 pickup truck.

But for now the work by the new employees is focused on the debut of the Transit, which replaces the popular but dated E-series vans. Some of the Transit vans have already been built for training purposes. The first shift — when running at full speed — will build 300 of them daily.

Claycomo is the only U.S. plant producing the Transit, which is larger than the Transit Connect van made elsewhere. The Transit’s different engine offerings, roof heights, seating configurations and other options make it the most complex vehicle ever made at Claycomo.

“There’s really quite a bit to learn,” said Jowiski. “This is an exciting and challenging time.”

When the Transit begins production, it will complete a turnaround for the Claycomo plant, which a few years ago had a worrisome future. The recession knocked F-150 production down to one shift, and Ford moved the building of the Escape SUV to a Kentucky plant.

But in 2011 the automaker announced a $1.1 billion investment here. It included a new stamping plant to make metal body parts for the Transit, the most popular commercial van in Europe.

“We’re getting very close to executing the plan” for the plant, said Jowiski.

Ford hasn’t been the only automaker boosting the Kansas City area economy. General Motors is investing $600 million in its Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., for a new paint shop and other upgrades. Though the investment will create no additional jobs there, it was seen as a vote of confidence for the plant’s future and its 3,900 hourly and salaried employees.

To reach Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send email to severly@kcstar.com.

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