Michigan assembling 1,000-acre ‘mega sites’ to attract big investments

Michigan is targeting swaths of rural land to become potential manufacturing hubs.

There are currently four so-called “mega sites” in Michigan being prepped to attract major projects.

Named for their size, each “investment-ready” site is roughly 1,000 acres or more to accommodate largescale manufacturing facilities that create thousands of jobs. They’re picked for their proximity to highways, railroads or ports and existing infrastructure.

This is a new strategy for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

“These mega sites are being assembled in order for us to catch up and surpass our competitors for economic development opportunities,” said Josh Hundt, chief projects officer for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “These types of sites can be where major investments that attract jobs of the future in high-tech manufacturing, including semiconductors, battery manufacturing and electric vehicles are able to locate.”

Related: Michigan predicted to “dominate” EV battery manufacturing after $2B investment

In the past year, the state economic board backed its first four mega sites.

The portfolio includes 981 acres in Mundy Township south of Flint, 1,492 acres in Eagle Township east of Lansing, 1,900 acres in Marshall and a plot of land in Shiawassee County.

Last year Michigan Strategic Fund awarded grants totaling $2.38 million to prepare this land for development – $250,000 to the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, $250,000 to the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, $1.2 million to the city of Marshall and $680,000 to Shiawassee County.

An August board meeting agenda shows three of the sites are being considered for projects with “large job creation and private investment” including one that will create 5,641 jobs and bring in a $50 billion investment.

“You don’t really find a property that’s that large,” said Terri Fitzpatrick, chief real estate and global attraction officer for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “You assemble it parcel by parcel over time. This is what other states have been doing, for not just years, but decades.”

Mega sites are another way Michigan plans to compete for multi-billion-dollar electric vehicle investments.

Last year, the state awarded $2 billion of economic incentives to win major projects from General Motors, Ford Motor Company, LG Energy Solutions, Gotion and One Next Energy, a Detroit battery startup. This put it in league with states like Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia that are expected to see “the highest growth in battery manufacturing capacity” by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Related: Michigan won 5 big electric vehicle projects this year – at a $2B taxpayer cost

But Fitzpatrick said the lack of mega sites held back Michigan.

“It has been the reason why we have not won some very large projects because we didn’t have a site that size to accommodate it,” she said.

Most notably, Michigan was snubbed by Ford Motor Company for a $5.6 billion investment in 2021. The Dearborn-based auto company picked Tennessee for its sprawling 3,600-acre Blue Oval City mega campus.

In response, Michigan upped efforts to land significant projects.

The state legislature created a $1 billion pot of economic incentive dollars at the end of 2021 that was immediately tapped to secure a $7 billion General Motors project. Another $846 million was deposited last year (plus $75 million for developing mega sites) and $150 million in a spending bill signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week.

And the Michigan Economic Development Corporation began to assemble mega sites.

“Michigan didn’t have any of those a year ago. Other states have spent 10 or 20 years meticulously putting together that kind of product. We as a state were competitively way behind,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Area Economic Partnership. “And this window of opportunity with these huge potential projects is a brief window of just a couple of years. You’ve got a lot of pressure and urgency.”

The Lansing Area Economic Partnership spent a year putting together the 1,400-acre Eagle Township plot with land from Michigan State University and 11 other properties. Trezise views the mega site, or the Michigan Manufacturing Innovation Campus, as a job creator and economic driver for the region.

Related: Shiawassee County receives $680K grant to plan for mega site development

But the project has drawn ire from some residents.

Some who live near the sweeping site have pushed back on plan saying it will destroy the rural landscape, and it uses land late farmer Dave Morris donated to Michigan State University for agricultural use.

“I don’t want to lose my house. I don’t want to lose the life I have built for 41 years,” said Cori Feldpausch who live less than four acres from the property. The 61-year-old retiree is leading Eagle Township’s “Stop the Mega Site” effort, which has grown into a 1,400 person Facebook group.

The Marshall mega site has also faced local pushback.

Once a property is pegged a mega site, though, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation expects it will eventually become a manufacturing center – if approved by local governments.

“We fully expect to pitch sites again and again that won’t win projects until they do,” Fitzpatrick said. “Which has been the experience throughout the country in mega site development.”

Hundt did not confirm whether there are any potential buyers for the existing mega sites.

Ford Motor Company and Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world, are eyeing the Marshall site for a $3.5 billion investment that was recently turned down by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for its ties to China, Crain’s Detroit Business reported this week.

“We are not in a position to talk about any specific opportunities with any companies,” Hundt told MLive.

More mega sites could soon be added to the portfolio.

In November, the Michigan Strategic Fund allocated $1.5 million for mega site proposals. And the Michigan Economic Development Corporation expects to submit a mega site strategic plan to the legislature and Whitmer by April 2.

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