LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ford Motor Co. is adding 350 workers at Kentucky Truck Plant and investing $80 million in "facility upgrades, retooling and increased capacity" to ramp production of F-Series Super Duty pickup trucks.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of The Americas, made the announcement Thursday with Gov. Steve Beshear, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and officials from the United Auto Workers union.

Ford plans to make 55,000 more trucks annually, a 15 percent increase.

"It's a good testament to the underlying growth in the U.S. economy; trucks are all about doing work," Hinrichs said, citing increases in home building and construction. "We're seeing that demand, and then it comes home in the great commonwealth of Kentucky, where we need to build more of these things."

Ford has already filled the new positions from a pool of 10,000 applications that were previously on file. All new workers should be on the job by April 1.

Meanwhile, state officials in Frankfort approved an additional $50 million in incentives from the commonwealth and Louisville Metro government -- meaning Ford now can collect up to $290 million from the state and local government by 2021.

The taxpayer money, of which Ford has already "earned" $104 million, is to help offset up to $1.8 billion in investments in the automaker's two Louisville plants, according to information from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority. (Joe Hall, spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, said the $104 million represents "the amount of money available for Ford to claim." He did not say whether the company has actually received it.)

Ford will have to reach the $1.8 billion threshold by the end of 2017 to collect the full $290 million. Ford says it has put $1.2 billion into the plants since 2010.

Ford has 8,378 fulltime workers between its two Louisville plants, according the state, and is projected to reach 8,700 with Thursday's announcement.

The Kentucky Truck Plant on Chamberlain Lane makes the F-250 through F-550 Super Duty pickups, as well as the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. The plant, which opened in 1969, has about 6 million square feet of manufacturing space on 500 acres in eastern Jefferson County.

Louisville Assembly Plant on Fern Valley Road makes the Escape SUV and in November, the plant announced it would begin producing the 2015 Lincoln MKC, a luxury mini-SUV.

"This is a day of celebration for Ford and Kentucky," Beshear said in a news release. "Ford has a long-standing tradition of creating quality vehicles and quality jobs in the Commonwealth. Kentucky is already the third largest auto producing state in the country, and Ford's expansion will push us closer to the top."

As the U.S. economy began to crater in 2007, Ford and the UAW negotiated a two-tier wage system that pays new production workers about half of what veteran UAW members make. After a recent increase, the entry-level wage at Kentucky Truck is $15.78 hourly, according to a local UAW official.

Hinrichs credited the "competitive" wage structure with helping Ford turn its prospects around and add 14,000 U.S. jobs in the last two years. On Tuesday, Ford announced 47,000 UAW workers across the country will recieve record profit-share checks average $8,800 per worker.

Asked whether tiered wage structure will ever go away, Hinrichs said: "We have got to be careful (not) to say, well lets start disrupting the system. The system is working."

In 2013, Ford produced more than 275,000 F-Series Super Duty trucks at KTP.

About 1.2 million vehicles were made in Kentucky last year, ranking the state third nationwide in light vehicle production, according to a news release.

The state is home to more than 450 automotive-related industries that employ more than 82,000 people.

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