s cities and states jockey for position in the race to the electrified future of transportation and chip fabrication, one state is bent on getting there first — and it’s the state that gave birth to American automotive manufacturing.
Michigan, which more than a century ago showed the world how to mass produce automobiles, is jumping to the front of the clean mobility movement by building a comprehensive supply chain for electric vehicles and semiconductors.
Over the past 18 months, about $20 billion in new manufacturing investments have been announced in Michigan. Most of them fall squarely in the EV and semiconductor sectors.
Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co., whose founder Henry Ford invented the Model T, has launched a $3.5 billion project known as BlueOval Battery Park Michigan in Marshall. This new plant will add 35 gigawatt hours per year of new battery capacity for Ford — enough to power 400,000 future Ford EVs. The plant will employ 2,500 workers when production begins in 2026.
None of this would be possible without site preparation, and that is where a coalition of partners comes into play. Spearheaded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Consumers Energy, an effort is underway to identify and prepare large-scale sites required by automakers, their suppliers and others to create this greener future.
Terri Fitzpatrick, executive vice president and chief real estate and global attraction officer for the MEDC, says that “the mobility and EV sectors are extremely important to Michigan. It is based on Michigan’s ability to do this. We want to retain the related jobs that are here today. Michigan put the world on wheels. Manufacturing excellency is matched with our innovation. We have a great concentration of engineers.”
Michigan has doubled down on an all-encompassing approach to site preparation. “Strategic site readiness legislation was passed in 2021,” says Fitzpatrick. “It was long thought of but very quickly developed. This is really a race to first base. There is a lot of competition in that sector. That is forcing accelerated development timelines.”
Michigan is pressing the accelerator by adopting what Fitzpatrick calls an “all of Team Michigan” approach. “I have worked in commercial development for 35 years,” she says. “There must be a partnership with the state, local government and others. These are capital-intensive projects. Product development has changed that too. Michigan is well situated to win. We have all the existing environmental conditions needed. We have great utility partners. Consumers Energy is one of them. You cannot underestimate that. Our energy partners are critical.”
‘Clean Serving Clean’
Lisa Pung, economic development strategy and competitiveness manager for Jackson-based Consumers Energy, says that “site readiness is Team Michigan’s commitment. We stand ready to assist with site preparation and meet accelerated timelines. We are partnering with MEDC to prepare sites that are ready for Ford and other companies. When you look at Michigan’s assets serving EVs and other sectors, the existing value chain here is instrumental. We have launched talent acquisition teams in Michigan, and our leading colleges and universities provide a solid workforce pipeline.”
Pung notes that Consumers Energy “will provide 100% renewable energy for Ford’s energy needs at BlueOval Battery,” which is in Calhoun County in southern Michigan, between Jackson and Battle Creek, near I-94 and I-69.
She adds that it is all about “clean serving clean. We are committed to leading the clean energy transformation in Michigan. Consumers Energy is going coal-free by 2025. We’ve set a breakthrough goal to have capacity to power up to 1 million EVs on Michigan roads by 2030. We have a major stake in making sure the charging infrastructure is there.”
Pung says the site readiness push would not be possible without other willing partners in the private sector. One of them is Walbridge, the largest automotive construction firm in America and one of the country’s 50 largest construction companies.
Proudly based in Detroit, Michigan, Walbridge provides comprehensive real estate services to companies looking to site and build plants. The 107-year-old firm is overseeing site preparation and construction of Ford’s BlueOval Battery Park in Marshall.
Partnering to Accelerate Site Readiness
“We develop our own real estate that we own in Michigan and across the country,” says Ryan Marsh, vice president of real estate services for Walbridge. “We focus on industrial. We provide industrial development services to our clients before they build — entitlement and due diligence services. We often prepare a mega-site presentation for clients. We help the non-profit economic development organization get the site shovel-ready. We start with location screening. Our location screening services look at existing greenfield locations. We provide dirt-to-dirt services.”
Marsh says Walbridge works with a client to determine the optimum location for the business facility investment project. “We will go through a candidate’s area and eliminate a site for cause based upon certain criteria,” he says. “We provide the customer with a benchmark matrix. We provide field due diligence to the customer. We look at the different labor pools and their skill sets. We do location screening labor market and income analytics for the customer. We will recommend a short list of best sites and a couple of alternatives.”
Walbridge guides the client through the negotiation process and “takes them through site acquisition, permitting, engineering, design, architecture, cost estimating and construction,” says Marsh. “What differentiates us is that we focus on costs. We are a construction-first organization. The largest consideration for any customer is the cost. That is what we know best. We are doing cost analysis from the very beginning rather than waiting until the very end — and that makes a big difference.
“We can differentiate the experience,” he says, “and demonstrate why Michigan is ready and we’re here to assist.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Consumers Energy. For more information, contact Valerie Christofferson at 616-648-2777 or Valerie.Christofferson@cmsenergy.com. On the web, go to www.ConsumersEnergy.com/econdev
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.