Battle Creek makes more than cereal
Fort Custer Industrial Park home to 80 companies and 13,000 employees
Battle Creek has courted Japanese firms since ’70s with tax incentives, cultural comforts
Latest company is BASF Group, Todo Kogyo Corp. joint venture
“The Cereal City” is Battle Creek’s motto. But as important as cereal — and the Kellogg Co. and Post Foods, both founded in Battle Creek at the turn of the 20th century — has been to the city, it is an ongoing irritation to Robert Corder, vice president of business attraction for Battle Creek Unlimited, a nonprofit economic development organization.
“The problem with Battle Creek is perception. For so long we’ve been known as Cereal City, but there is so much more to the city than that,” Corder said. “Post and Kellogg have been cutting back employment for years. Today, the main story is the Fort Custer Industrial Park, but nobody thinks we’re anything but cereal.”
That sprawling 3,000-acre industrial park is home to more than 80 companies and 13,000 employees. Among those companies are 18 from Japan and firms from Canada, Denmark, Germany and Austria.
On Wednesday, a deal between Germany-based BASF Group, the worldwide chemical giant, and Tokyo-based Toda Kogyo Corp. to form a joint venture, BASF Toda America LLC, officially closed. The deal will allow Toda Kogyo, which employs 36 at its manufacturing plant in the industrial park, to add more production lines and grow its workforce in the next two to three years, said director of human resources Sarah Mercer.
It’s just the latest feather in Fort Custer’s cap. And there are more to come: the park has 1,000 acres yet to be developed and recently cleared three 20-acre parcels that were heavily wooded for the next expansion; one lot has been sold and construction has begun on an aluminum anodizing plant. And the Battle Creek Unlimited board recently approved plans for a 100-acre section of undeveloped land in the northwest corner of the park to be set aside as a campus devoted to companies involved in the growth, testing, packaging and distribution of medical marijuana.
How did this small city in the Lower Peninsula, midway between Detroit and Chicago, with a 2010 census count of 52,347, create this mighty manufacturing campus? The story starts back in the cereal days.
Former Army camp
It was only about a decade after the founding of the Kellogg Co. as the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Co. in 1906 by Will Keith Kellogg, an outgrowth of his work with his brother, John Harvey, at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where they followed the dietary practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
At the site of what is now the industrial park, on the western outskirts of Battle Creek, Quaker and Spiritualist sects founded the town of Harmonia in 1855. Over its brief history, the town had a private academy, a public school and more than 20 homes, including that of antislavery activist Sojourner Truth.
During World War I, Battle Creek offered the land to the federal government, and on July 1, 1917, after vacating more than 100 farms, the U.S. Army opened Camp Custer, later to be named Fort Custer, on 8,878 acres. About 2,000 buildings were built in six months, at what was then the astronomical cost of about $9 million.
The camp housed up to 60,000 troops during the war.
In 1964, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the closing of the fort. The official closing ceremony took place in 1968.
Today, there is an Air National Guard base on the site and a large National Guard armory.
Soon after the fort closed, 2,000 acres were sold to the city of Battle Creek.
Battle Creek Unlimited was formed in 1972 under contract with the city to market an industrial park and manage the demolition of Army buildings and the clearing of vast swaths of forest. That year, Archway Cookies became the first tenant.
In 1976, the park was designated as a customs port; in 1978 it was designated a foreign-trade zone and in 1980, Kellogg opened a $10 million R&D facility there. That same year, state Public Act 450 created the Battle Creek Tax Increment Financing Authority as the first industrial TIFA in Michigan.
The TIFA officially owns the industrial park and Battle Creek Unlimited manages it.
In the mid-1970s, Battle Creek Unlimited officials began making trade missions to Japan. The Japanese were ramping up U.S. manufacturing, and they were going to need U.S. facilities. If you were coming all the way to Michigan to be close to the Big Three, Battle Creek wasn’t all that far away, relatively, from Southeast Michigan.
And BC Unlimited had a new industrial park and tax credits and abatements to offer.
“There’s no secret sauce to economic development,” said Corder. “You go and build relationships.”
In 1978, Hi-Lex Corp. of Japan created a new subsidiary in the park, Hi-Lex America Inc., a maker of mechanical control cables for the auto industry. It is still in the park and now employs 322.
In 1984, Denso Corp., headquartered in the Kariya, Aichi prefecture in Japan, created Denso Manufacturing Michigan Inc. as the lead North American facility for the manufacture of automotive air conditioning and engine cooling components and systems.
DMMI has grown over the years to be the largest manufacturer in the Fort Custer Industrial Park and the largest employer in and around Battle Creek. According to BC Unlimited, its campus now includes 2,817 employees in 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing, warehouse and administrative space in six buildings on more than 100 acres of land.
Kellogg is the No. 2 employer with a head count of 2,279.
DMMI, despite the “Michigan” in its name, also owns a 103,000-square-foot plant in Montgomery, Ala., and a 36,000 square-foot facility in Urbandale, Iowa.
Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on March 11, 2018. For more information, please click here to read the source article.
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