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Genesee County leaders eye ‘huge’ economic boost from upcoming manufacturing project

Genesee County leaders eye ‘huge’ economic boost from upcoming manufacturing project

By Kyle Kaminski

July 1, 2024

More than $250 million in state funds are set to help redevelop a massive tract of land near Flint into one of Michigan’s largest manufacturing operations. And local leaders are rolling out the welcome mat for new jobs.

MICHIGAN—A 1,200-acre parcel of land in rural Mundy Township is one step closer to becoming the home of a massive, new manufacturing facility after state lawmakers last week approved $250 million in grant funding to support the forthcoming redevelopment project.

The state Senate Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to approve the state grant funding for the project—marking the final step needed for developers to start spending the cash to buy up adjacent land, and ultimately, to prepare the site for a new manufacturing facility.

And in a series of interviews with The ‘Gander, several local leaders and community members are rallying in support of the redevelopment project—and the prospect of new jobs and a stronger local economy—as the plans inch closer to reality. 

Here’s the deal:

In recent years, the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance has contemplated a range of plans for a 1,200-acre tract of mostly vacant farmland in Mundy Township near the Bishop International Airport—including for engineering, robotics, or another “high-tech” manufacturing operation.

Those plans still aren’t final, as developers haven’t yet identified (or at least haven’t yet publicly disclosed) any manufacturers that might be interested in setting up shop on the property.

But whatever is built there could pay big dividends for the local economy, with officials aiming to attract no less than $2 billion in private investment and 2,000 new, high-wage jobs.

What are people saying?

Nearly 30 organizations and businesses across Genesee County have signed a public letter in support of the ongoing efforts to attract a manufacturer into the region. And in a series of interviews with The ‘Gander, local business and community leaders are also standing united behind the plans—citing a wide range of expected benefits for the regional and state economy.

Among them: Kristy Cantleberry, a Flint-area real estate agent who has bought and sold homes across Genesee County and Mundy Township for the last 33 years. 

It’s going to bring a ton of economic growth to our community, which is what Genesee County needs, so I’m excited about it,” Cantleberry said. “Genesee County and Mundy Township have seen their fair share of hard economic times. If you bring in a big manufacturing site, it’s going to create jobs. And with jobs, comes the need for housing. So, it’s really all very exciting.”

Cantleberry said a massive, new employer would not only draw new workers into the region, but also create more opportunities for young people so they don’t need to move away to find work.

I see it as being a win, big time, for Genesee County and Mundy Township,” Cantleberry said.

Population loss has been repeatedly cited among the greatest threats to Genesee County’s economy—with the 2020 Census showing a loss of nearly 20,000 residents since 2010.

Cantleberry also said the job growth could help invigorate the local real estate market. She also expects it will entice developers to build more affordable housing options in the region.

“Prices will still be on the rise, but it’s going to be nice to get some new inventory. I think we need the jobs first,” Cantleberry said. “There are a lot of jobs out there, but this project would bring in some exciting new growth, and I think that’s going to excite buyers and sellers again.”

Christopher Wise, the vice president of the Randy Wise Automotive Team, also issued a statement in support of the forthcoming redevelopment project in Mundy Township. 

“A new advanced manufacturer in Genesee County is a win-win,” he said. “It will help bring our supply chain back to the US and bring back jobs that have been lost to foreign companies.”

Officials have said the jobs likely to come to the manufacturing project would include positions that would be well-paying—but not necessarily require a college education. But for those specialized jobs that do require a degree, the University of Michigan-Flint is standing ready.

Christopher Pearson, the dean at the College of Innovation & Technology at the University of Michigan-Flint, also believes the new advanced manufacturing facility in Mundy Township will translate to thousands of new employment opportunities for students and recent graduates.

“We can develop the talent, but if there’s nowhere for the talent to work, it’s not a workable equation,” Pearson told The ‘Gander. “The numbers they’re talking about are just astronomical. I think if this does come to fruition, it would obviously have a huge economic impact for the area.”

The University of Michigan-Flint already offers a robust array of course offerings for students in software and mechanical engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and other fields that might be relevant for a high-tech manufacturing operation. But Pearson said the university is willing to make adjustments as necessary to accommodate the new development.

“One of our strong points is that we’re fairly nimble and we’re fairly new, so we can adjust to changing markets fairly quickly. So, we’re fully committed to developing a curriculum that will create the skills and experience needed for the positions that will be there at this facility.”

Robert McMahan, the president of Kettering University, has also voiced support for the project.

“With the support of our state leaders and elected officials, the [redevelopment project] is exceptionally well positioned to create a wide range of opportunities not only for our graduates but for our entire community, region, and state,” McMahan said. “Advanced manufacturers generate a vast range of rewarding spinoff career opportunities. Such a project here would help fuel exciting new innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities across our entire community.” 

Mark Sinila, chief executive officer at the Flint Cultural Center Corporation, which manages and maintains the Flint Cultural Center campus, said that having more people living and working in Genesee County will also naturally work to uplift the local arts and entertainment scene. 

Simply put: Workers will need something to do when they’re not working, Sinila explained.

“It’s really exciting because it’s going to have a trick-down effect—to the restaurant industry as well as the arts,” he said. “It’s going to keep more people in Genesee County, employed in Genesee County, and they’re going to go shopping and out to eat in Genesee County. They’re going to attend events and shows in Genesee County. … I have no problems supporting this.”

Karima Amlani, president of the Hurley Foundation, which supports the nonprofit Hurley Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, has also thrown her support behind the redevelopment project—namely because 2,000 more employees working in Genesee County with health insurance would almost certainly spell more business for the local healthcare industry.

“It’s no secret that individuals with health insurance will seek preventative care more than individuals who do not have access,” she said. “So, good paying jobs mean good benefits, which mean access to health insurance and access to preventative care. That means there’s less need for intervention—and that people with jobs and benefits are a healthier community.”

Hurley Medical Center provides care to 65% of the area’s Medicaid clients and most of the unemployed and uninsured residents in Genesee County—providing more than $17 million in uncompensated care to those with little or no health insurance every year, Amlani said.

“For us, it’s an opportunity for growth. I mean, just from the mission of the hospital and the foundation as far as equity and access, just having that access is huge,” Amlani said. “And with the promise of these types of jobs, there’s an inherent promise of (healthcare) access.”

As the granddaughter of a former General Motors assembly worker, Amlani said she also grew up with a “romantic” notion of what it means to be a part of the middle class—and is excited to see more opportunities created for future generations to be able to follow a similar career path.

“It won’t be a romantic idea anymore. We have this possibility right here that families can flourish, they can stay together. They don’t have to move out or move away just to seek a livable income and a good life,” Amlani added. “We know what it means to have investment in our community and we know what it means to lose that investment. So, for those of us who’ve lived through it long enough, I think we’re really excited to have this opportunity of investment.”

What’s next?

This state funding approved last week came from the state’s Strategic Site Readiness Program, which provides grants, loans, and other assistance to help prepare land for redevelopment projects, attract investments from big-name companies, and ultimately create more jobs.

The grant funds will now reportedly go to the Flint & Genesee Group, primarily to buy up more land, as well as for demolition and preliminary preparation work at the so-called “megasite.”

It remains to be seen what kind of industry will ultimately fill the site, but officials are trying to see which companies would offer Michigan the biggest bang for its buck.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest in this site because of its unique qualities, including its close proximity to a skilled workforce,” Tyler Rossmaessler, the executive director of the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, said in a statement last week. “We are excited to keep our foot on the accelerator of efforts to attract new opportunities to Genesee County.”

READ MORE: Michigan invests big to create new manufacturing jobs in Genesee County

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

CATEGORIES: MONEY AND JOBS
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