Economic developers list West Michigan’s 10 largest properties to help attract projects

Three economic development organizations serving a 13-county region in western Michigan have reduced nearly 150 properties to 10 sites that would be suitable for potentially large advanced industrial or manufacturing projects.

The roughly eight-month effort comes as state and regional economic development leaders are experiencing a strong pipeline of potential projects and a desire to be ready to land the next big investment. Securing land for these projects is often a first step before the state can offer very competitive incentive offers.

Supported by a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., The Good Place Inc., Lakeshore Advantage Corp. and Greater Muskegon Economic Development led a $50,000 project to narrow down approximately 140 potential industrial properties to the 10 most suitable for major developments, including a top five “A” list.

The project was part of inventorying properties of 50 acres or more as well as identifying barriers to development, said Travis Alden, senior director of community development at The Right Place.

“Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be ready to build or ready to go,” Alden said, noting that one of the project’s goals was “to get more developable industrial property online.”

“We decided we needed to be proactive and not just do an inventory of the bigger sites in the 13 county area, but do an analysis of what it would take to get more of them online,” Alden said. . “There’s also science and art behind it to fine-tune the sites. We ended up with a short list of those that we think have a lot of benefits and are very desirable from a development perspective, especially for large project types.

Alden said the approximately 140 sites that have been reduced to about 30 are relatively close to infrastructure and are modifiable for zoning. The team hired an engineering company Fishbeck for additional GIS mapping and to identify topography, sewage and other infrastructure. The organizations also worked with officials from Energy DTE and Energy consumers on the sites’ energy infrastructures.

This led to an ‘A’ and ‘B’ listing of five properties each. The “A” list includes properties that, after securing minor local approvals or securing state funding, “could be a game-changer in terms of when they get activated,” Alden said. List “B” may involve “a little more climbing to get there”.

Although Alden declined to say where exactly the properties are located, they are in eight of the 13 counties covering the state’s Economic Development Collaborations (EDC) Region 4. Region 4 EDC includes Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Muskegon, Montcalm, Kent, Ottawa, Ionia, Allegan and Barry counties.

The best sites range in size from 74 acres to 285 acres.

“If all of these elements were to come online, activated and ready for commercialization and development, it would bring an additional 1,420 acres online for manufacturing and industrial development in West Michigan,” Alden said. “That would be huge and give us a bit more to bring to the table when we have some of these big demands.”

Pipeline of projects

The project mirrors a similar effort in southeast Michigan, where the Detroit Regional Partnership recently developed a web portal of large vacant sections of development-ready land across an 11-county region, according to media reports.

The West Michigan project came as The Right Place and the MEDC courted global battery maker Gotion Inc. for a $2.36 billion project that is currently progressing near Big Rapids.

Economic development groups more broadly describe a strong pipeline of projects for the region.

“Inquiries abound in western Michigan,” Alden said.

This summer, the life science society Global Solutions for Life Sciences United States LLC received $5.7 million in state grants and incentives to repurpose a former BASF site in Muskegon Township as part of a $430 million project.

Morgan Carroll, director of business development at Greater Muskegon Economic Development, said existing infrastructure was crucial to luring the Massachusetts-based company to the former BASF site and attracting other projects.

“It’s nice to have 50 or 100 acres, but if there’s no infrastructure there, then the site just isn’t a viable option,” Carroll said, citing an infrastructure reliable energy and waste water. To that end, GMED recently supported a $60 million grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund Board to help complete a wastewater pipeline to facilitate the growth of agribusiness in the Coopersville area.

“Having this infrastructure is extremely critical,” Carroll said. “And it’s hard for a lot of communities to get because it’s so expensive.”

Carroll said narrowing down a list of five sites in the region was crucial to positioning them for potential grant funding to build infrastructure, if needed.

“We got very picky towards the end because if we’re going to ask for money in the future for infrastructure, these sites need to be close to interstate access and need utilities and the talent pool. there,” Carroll said. “There are a lot of factors involved in choosing these sites.”

Carroll added that the site preparation project was “really based on the fact that we see all these huge project requests coming into the state of Michigan. And these are sent to us as economic developers and we can’t submit (proposals) because we don’t have the sites or the acres.

Additionally, state legislators have prioritized investment in site preparation for major projects. A recent reallocation of $846 million in the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) directs $250 million to Michigan’s Strategic Site Preparation Program. This includes $25 million for grants to local economic development organizations and $100 million for upgrading industrial sites where a potential user has not been identified. Another $75 million is for evaluating “mega-strategic” sites, while the remaining $50 million is for improving sites intended for a specific user.

Experts say this kind of site preparation is essential even before states enter high-stakes competition involving big incentive packages.

“When companies are looking at where they are going to locate a new operation, they are looking at very basic things that need to be there: enough land for the space they are going to occupy, and water and electricity at reasonable rates that are essential inputs to their processes.They need sufficient confidence that there is a workforce there and an ability to train and replicate that workforce at These are all checkboxes,” said Kristin Dziczek, an auto policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. MiBiz this week. “When they get four, five or six different places that check all these boes, then it’s all about incentives.”

Alden described it as a deflated feeling when economic developers are not even able to offer an eligible site.

“There’s nothing you hate more than if there’s a qualified survey, a qualified prospect looking at your community or region…and you don’t have the property, sites or infrastructure to meet those needs. “, Alden said. “You have to say to yourself: ‘We don’t have the product to offer you’, and it really stinks.”

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