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Senator Landrieu Still Working To Get Federal Funding For North Louisiana Auto Maker

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee hearing today, United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., again pressed Department of Energy (DOE) officials to approve Next Autoworks’ loan guarantee application under the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program. Sen. Landrieu questioned Jonathan Silver, the DOE’s executive director of its Loan Program Office, and probed for updates on the program’s issuance of loan guarantees.

Next Autoworks needs $321.1 million to start up an auto assembly plant to manufacture energy-efficient cars at the former Guide Corp. auto parts factory in Monroe, La. The state of Louisiana and local communities have already offered Next Autoworks $67 million in grants, $12.8 million in employee training services and an estimated $33.8 million in tax abatements to support the project. The Next Autoworks plant has the potential to create 1,400 direct jobs and an additional 1,800 indirect jobs in northeast Louisiana.

“My point is this: I think that we need to not only have this program supporting companies that have long been in this industry, but emerging companies that are that have real potential to create more competition around the country,” Sen. Landrieu said while questioning Mr. Silver. “We’ve had a 2.5-year application before the agency for a company trying to emerge out of Louisiana. The South is emerging as quite a powerhouse in the automobile industry and we’d like to make sure that remains. This is not just a Michigan-, Ohio-revitalization effort.”

Sen. Landrieu continued her questioning: “Are you still working with Next Autoworks on a daily or weekly basis or is this something that we are ready to pull the trigger on, one way or another? If this is going to work, we want to continue to work with you.”

Responding to Sen. Landrieu, Mr. Silver  said: “We meet regularly and speak very regularly with all the applicants … including [Next Autoworks]. I think all the applications in the due diligence process are moving forward. …. I am cautiously optimistic that the projects we are working on now … will come forward.”

Following the hearing, Sen. Landrieu spoke with Mr. Silver more about Next Autoworks prospects. During their 10-minute conversation, Mr. Silver reiterated that DOE is speaking with Next Autoworks very frequently, and the agency continues to make progress in working out any remaining concerns with the loan application.

Sen. Landrieu commented that “based on the conversation I had today with Mr. Silver, I know that significant progress is being made to finalize this loan.  I am very hopeful that it will be finalized in the next few months.  As such, I encourage the state legislature to keep intact the $67 million available that it has set aside for this loan for the foreseeable future.”

Since first submitting its loan applications in May 2009, Sen. Landrieu has strongly supported Next Autoworks application and efforts to create jobs in Northern Louisiana.  In March 2010, DOE denied V-Vehicle’s application for loans under the program, citing concerns about the company’s financial viability. Despite the setback, Sen. Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) in December 2010 sent a letter to Sec. Chu again expressing their strong support for Next Autoworks and urging them to expedite the application process. And this January, Sen. Landrieu personally intervened and called DOE Sec. Steven Chu urging him to move forward on granting Next Autoworks the loan guarantee.

To view highlights of Sen. Landrieu questioning Mr. Silver, please visit: http://youtu.be/afiaYLfWgmo

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