CHICAGO – Ford Motor Co.’s investment in a Chicago-area supplier park, as well as its manufacturing facility here, will result in 400 to 600 more jobs than originally expected, the auto maker’s top executive says.

Initial estimates called for about 1,000 jobs to be added.

Chairman Bill Ford, speaking at a meeting of the Economic Club of Chicago, says the new job figures will bring Ford’s Chicago-area employment to 5,400 workers.

The 155-acre (63-ha) supplier campus will support new, more flexible operations at its Chicago Assembly plant, located a half-mile (0.8 km) down the road. Chicago Assembly, which previously produced the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, is tooling up to start production this year of the Ford Five Hundred and Freestyle and Mercury Montego.

Bill Ford

The more flexible facility will be able to produce up to eight models on two separate architectures, Bill Ford says.

He pairs the announcement of the additional jobs with an impassioned defense of the domestic automotive industry in its role as “the engine that drives the economy.”

“Those who have written off the domestic auto industry as irrelevant or ineffective aren’t paying attention,” Bill Ford says.

He rattles off a list of evidence speaking to the importance of an industry he says once was viewed as “the dinosaur of the rust belt”:

  • The auto industry accounts for 5% of total U.S. jobs, creating seven spin-off positions for every direct worker.

  • It accounts for 4% of the gross domestic product.

  • It spends more on research and development than any other manufacturing sector.

  • It is the single biggest purchaser of many raw materials.

“And unlike the transplants, the money we earn in this country stays in this country,” says Bill Ford.

This defense comes as Ford aims to rebuild its stature in the U.S. market, something being addressed through some 65 new-product introductions among Ford’s various brands over the next five years.

This won’t come without a fair share of challenges. Among the largest, Bill Ford says, will be rebuilding the company’s credibility after a few dismal years kicked off by the Firestone tire scandal.

Another factor working against it is mounting healthcare costs for employees and retirees. Bill Ford says the auto maker spends more on healthcare than steel.