LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ford Motor Co. is putting another $550 million into its two Louisville plants – primarily Louisville Assembly Plant as it prepares to launch a new version of the Escape SUV and begin building the Lincoln Corsair this fall.

Ford disclosed the investment to Kentucky officials as part of an action approved Thursday that will make the company eligible for an additional $40 million in economic development incentives through 2024.

The announcement comes as Ford and the United Auto Workers union are negotiating a four-year labor contract, but it is unrelated to the talks, a Ford spokeswoman said. The $550 million actually fulfills commitments Ford made to its Louisville plants as part of the 2015 labor contract, which expires Sept. 14.

The “vast majority” of the upgrades, which are “in the process of being made,” are at Louisville Assembly Plant in preparation to launch an overhauled version of the popular Escape SUV and begin production of the Corsair, a compact luxury SUV, said Kelli Felker, a spokeswoman for the company.

The 2015 contract included a $700 million commitment to Louisville Assembly plant for an “all new” version of the Escape.

“Ford builds more vehicles in the U.S. and employs more hourly workers in the U.S. than any other automaker - and we'd like to keep it that way,” Ford said in an emailed statement. “To do so, we must remain competitive. We appreciate the strong support from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the City of Louisville. The incentives approved today help Ford remain competitive and support the 12,500 hourly jobs at our Louisville plants.”

The spending is primarily to “retool” Louisville Assembly Plant in preparation for the vehicles, Felker said. She could not be more specific.

The $550 million makes Ford eligible to collect an additional $40 million in public money under a mega-economic development incentive program that Kentucky lawmakers created specifically for Ford in 2007, when the company was considering closing Louisville Assembly Plant.

The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority on Thursday extended the state’s “job retention” agreement with Ford by three years, to Dec. 31, 2024, and raised the total the company could collect under the program from $315 million to $355 million. Ford has already "earned" $240 million as of Thursday, according to state documents.

“Ford is a long-time pillar of employment in the greater Louisville area and we’re thrilled the company is continuing to reinvest in its plants and retain its Kentucky workforce,” said Jack Mazurak, of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, in a statement.

Ford has reported investing $2.95 billion in its two Louisville plants since 2007 under the agreement, including the $550 million added on Thursday.

The investment announced Thursday does not include additional jobs.

Louisville Assembly lost one of its three shifts, called the C Crew, earlier this year when Ford moved about 500 workers across town to Kentucky Truck Plant.

The plants employ about 12,500 union workers in all, plus a few hundred salaried employees in management, engineering and other white-collar roles.

Under the incentive agreement with Kentucky, Ford must maintain 90 percent of the fulltime, Kentucky resident workers it employs to collect the full $355 million, a portion of which is given to the company each year. The company is estimated to employ 12,070 Kentucky residents as of Thursday’s amendment, up from 11,200 previously.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.