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Michigan leaders eye Marshall area land in push for big projects

Michigan officials have increased their focus on a 1,700-acre “megasite” in the Marshall area as the state pursues large and yet-to-be-named economic development projects, according to interviews and records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The effort to lure companies to the site, which is near the interchange of Interstate 94 and Interstate 69, could test Michigan’s new incentive programs and its ability to maintain a leading role in auto manufacturing as states in the southern U.S. have landed a string of major projects in recent months.

Michigan House Appropriations Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, whose committee can sign off on incentive dollars, met with local officials in March along with state Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, according to one email. And Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who chairs the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee, predicted what ultimately happens with the site will help accomplish his goal of growing Michigan, population 10 million, by 1 million people in less than 10 years.

“This is one of those projects that will put Michigan back on the manufacturing map again,” Horn said.

In December, lawmakers worked with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to create a Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund in the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to help chase large economic development deals. Money in the SOAR Fund can only move to two other new funds: the Michigan Strategic Site Readiness Fund and the Critical Industry Fund.

Lawmakers initially deposited $1 billion into the SOAR Fund. The program helped attract a $7 billion General Motors Co. project in the Lansing area and Orion Township that was announced in January. But lawmakers have acknowledged other potential developments are in the works that could also benefit from the new incentives.

Asked about the Marshall site, Whitmer’s spokesman Bobby Leddy said the state is in “a stronger position to aggressively compete for every job and dollar of investment as we continue to grow our economy at a record pace.”

“Right now, there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand and diversify our state’s economic portfolio, and we are going to keep our foot on the gas to make sure everyone knows Michigan is the place to do business,” Leddy said.

James Durian, chief executive officer of the development and tourism organization Choose Marshall, said he was not aware of any “imminent” announcement for the site, located in Marshall Township. But Durian said interest in the area had increased.

“I get the impression that there has been a lot more focus and investment on the site than there has ever been,” Durian said.

The ‘megasite’

Multiple officials said the Marshall area site was the largest ready for a manufacturing project in the state.

A webpage from Choose Marshall about the location described it as a “premier site opportunity” that’s one mile from both I-69 and I-94, 90 minutes from Detroit, 80 minutes from Grand Rapids and three hours from Chicago.

Identifying sites for development has become a higher priority in Michigan, Durian said, after Ford Motor Co. announced in September an $11 billion investment, along with 11,000 jobs, in Kentucky and Tennessee.

One of the reasons Michigan wasn’t chosen was because of a lack of large-scale tracts suitable for 21st-century development.

Durian said state government has been focused on the Marshall area site, providing funding for land acquisition. Economic developers have gathered land option agreements for about 1,700 acres, he said.

“We have had regular contact with the state,” Durian said.

Otie McKinley, spokesman for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the Marshall area property along with Calhoun County and Emmett Township have received $1.8 million from various funding sources to help address opportunities for the site to meet the needs for potential developments.

“The MEDC and Gov. Whitmer have been closely working together to aggressively market the state and site-ready parcels, like the Marshall property, for large-scale transformational projects,” McKinley said.

Watch Video About the Megasite

SOAR Funding?

McKinley said the Marshall project could eventually benefit from the state’s new SOAR Fund, which can provide money for site readiness.

When the Whitmer administration and the MEDC were pursuing legislation to create the SOAR program, 13 lawmakers signed confidentiality agreements, preventing them from disclosing details of potential development projects.

Of the 13, a handful represented Marshall or areas nearby in the Legislature, including Hall; Sen. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek; and Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek. Bizon and Haadsma signed confidentiality pledges related to a single unnamed project.

In a Friday interview, Hall, who helped champion the SOAR legislation, said he’s been focused on landing a major economic development project.

“I want to see it right here in Marshall, Michigan, which I think is the best location for it,” Hall said.

“This is really one of the prime locations available in the state of Michigan to land a large deal,” he added.

A March 18 email from Marshall City Manager Derek Perry to City Council members said Hall and Albert had visited to discuss “megasite projects and how they can potentially assist.”

The email noted that Albert’s committee has the power to sign off on SOAR funding.

“They also visited our peers in Battle Creek,” Perry wrote in the message. “We had a good general discussion about not only the project, but also some of the other ancillary needs, like housing, transit, public safety, etc.”

Talk of semiconductors

Much of the speculation about the Marshall site has focused on semiconductors, of which there has been a global shortage, causing problems for the auto manufacturing industry.

Whitmer herself has pressed for federal legislation that would fund $52 billion in domestic semiconductor chip production. The governor traveled to California last fall to meet with the Semiconductor Industry Association Board of Directors.

Officials wouldn’t discuss the details of potential projects that could end up on the Marshall site. But Durian of Choose Marshall noted that vehicle batteries and semiconductors are “areas of growth.”

Likewise, Hall mentioned that he sponsored a bill to provide income tax credits for “qualified research and development expenses.”

The qualified expenses included those on “the design, development, or improvement of semiconductors, semiconductor devices and equipment” and “the design, engineering, testing,or diagnostics of automated driving systems.”

Horn said lawmakers would work to provide “whatever they need” for the site, whether it’s help with water treatment or utilities.

The senator said he’s hoping that more money will be inserted soon into the SOAR Fund for projects. Whitmer has previously proposed putting $500 million more into a fund.

The state’s incentive package for GM featured $666 million flowing through the SOAR Fund, leaving about $334 million in the account.

“Michigan’s economy is growing and we should build on the good work we did last year to that helped us land a $7 billion investment from GM creating and retaining 5,000 jobs,” Whitmer said in a February statement. “When we come together to put Michigan’s economy first, we can land transformational projects bringing billions in investment and thousands of good-paying jobs to our communities.”


Posted By: The Detroit News on May 22, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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