Ready to shovel? State demands money for site preparation after Ford plants go south

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration, business developers and industry groups urge a $ 100 million fund to support large-scale industrial development after Tennessee and Kentucky received $ 11.4 billion in investments from Ford Motor Co. and a battery maker to have.

The $ 100 million would go to Michigan Economic Development Corp. give a pot of money to build land and pay for planning, engineering, traffic studies, and infrastructure and utility improvements to make so-called megasites shovel-ready.

Executives at DTE Energy Co. (NYSE: DTE) and Consumers Energy Co. (NYSE: CMS) told Crain’s that both utility companies are talking to MEDC officials about how to better coordinate direct marketing of large industrial locations, particularly for future battery power plant projects high power consumption.

“At the state level, there is discussion about providing funding to prepare sites for the future, and we at DTE are 100 percent supportive of this,” said Jerry Norcia, CEO of DTE Energy, in a telephone interview. “If the governor and the legislature want to create funding flows to make websites available, I think this would be a great opportunity.”

The proposed fund was part of Whitmer’s sweeping MI New Economy initiative before Ford shocked the governor’s office, lawmakers, and suppliers like DTE when they decided to build two gigantic electric vehicle and battery factories on large lots already for one rapid development in western Tennessee and central Kentucky are prepared.

Both southern states have reportedly spent millions of dollars preparing a 3,600-acre property an hour northeast of Memphis and 1,500-acre property south of Louisville, Kentucky for the rapid construction of large industrial plants.

Michigan’s economic planners confirmed last week that Ford’s home state has almost no similar shovel-ready locations for the market for automakers looking to place a big bet on vehicle electrification.

“We don’t have 2,000 acres of land lying around,” said Maureen Donohue Krauss, CEO of the Detroit Regional Partnership, the 11 county’s economic development organization.

Despite large areas of farmland along the highways connected to international junctions in Port Huron and Detroit, the state lacks a political initiative to purchase the development rights to adjacent tracts of land that can be marketed for new vehicle or battery assembly plants, said John Walsh, CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

“We didn’t focus much on that,” said Walsh, a former GOP state lawmaker and budget director under former Governor Rick Snyder. “There is regional effort, there is local effort, but not even half what they did in Kentucky and Tennessee.”

Although Ford’s decision to abandon its home state may have been “site-specific,” Whitmer said Ford did not give Michigan a “real opportunity” to bid on either or both projects.

Ford spokesman Martin Günsberg said the Dearborn-based automaker’s location selection factors included the amount of land that is needed near highways and railways that is “shovel-ready”.

“Michigan did not have the land required for this project, so they were not part of the formal bidding process,” Gunsberg told Crain’s.

Whitmer’s new MEDC chief Quentin Messer Jr. tried to downplay Michigan’s inability to compete for the 11,000 new jobs Ford and SK Innovation are looking to create between the southern states.

“Of course we would like all of Ford’s investments in Michigan, but this is just an announcement,” Messer told reporters. “Ford remains an important part of Michigan’s business world.”


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