Locals' environmental concerns stymie Ford's newest battery plant in Michigan

Marshall, Michigan. – On a windy morning in a quaint mid-Michigan town, the sun hits a brightly colored mural on the side of a brick building. It said “Greetings from Marshall” in bold letters.

The sidewalks are lined with attractive stores like Living MI, where owner Caryn Drenth keeps a stack of graphic T-shirts among rows of gift-worthy trinkets. Across the street at Marshall Hardware, store manager David Miltenberger placed two flags — an American flag and one for the Marshall High School Redhawks — on flagpole stands adjacent to the exterior wall.

About a five-minute drive past an antique store, a bookstore and a vintage pharmacy, is a sprawling site where construction has begun.Piles of dirt and a fleet of cement trucks are the first signs of things to come: New $3.5 billion ford The factory will employ 2,500 workers and produce batteries for electric vehicles.

Ford initially considered setting up factories outside the U.S., but was eventually drawn to Michigan, in part because of new federal tax credits in the Inflation Cut Act for electric vehicles and batteries. Ford eventually landed in Marshall, a town of fewer than 7,000 residents.

A year ago, President Joe Biden signed the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a broad environmental, tax and health care plan that he promised would bring jobs to the United States. He and other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have since touted the law’s impact as key to winning the presidency and Congress in 2024.

pros and cons

At the Marshall site, however, the site was getting ready to start construction, but the reality was much more complicated. Excitement about the site is paired with apprehension about how life in a charming town might change with the introduction of major industry.

Many business owners, including Derek Allen, who runs a nonprofit in Marshall, have hailed the new plant as a way to ensure economic stability. The city has lost 2,000 jobs in recent years as companies downsize or relocate elsewhere, Allen said. The pandemic has also taken a toll on many small businesses. The announcement of the new facility in February “has been a huge boost to morale here,” Allen said at Serendipity and The Brew, a local coffee and home goods store.

“I’m so excited and lucky that it’s come to our community and businesses like this are going to thrive because of it for who knows how long,” Allen said.

Not everyone is convinced the change is in Marshall’s favor.

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City Council members voted to rezon the 741-acre site on which the facility will be built at a May meeting in which hundreds of residents voiced their views for and against the project and continued until the 2 am the next day. Concerns range from environmental protections to Ford’s tie-up with a Chinese battery company, Contemporary New Energy Technology Co., Ltd.to produce batteries.

This dissent can be seen in the neighborhoods closest to where the factory of the future will be located.

Yard signs dot the neighborhood, reading: “Stop the Giant Ruins, Save the Historic Marshall.” At a nearby intersection, a homemade wooden sign reads “China Ford” and features an arrow point to the scene.

A general view of a mural in downtown Marshall, Mich., on June 28, 2023.

Ben Kleiman | Reuters

While Ford tried to reassure residents that they would own the facility and the land, and that they would take steps to protect the environment, not everyone was convinced.

Emma Ruedisueli, who lived and grew up in Marshall, said the construction had been jarring, especially for those who liked the rural fields on the town’s outskirts and didn’t want to see industry move in. to say.

“For our small town, it’s been a little bit disruptive,” she said. “There are more and more voices about the loss of land.”

political influence

Marshall is the seat of Calhoun County, which supported Donald Trump with 55% of the vote in 2020. The county also supported Trump in 2016 but voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008.

Biden and the Democrats hope to win over voters in swing districts like Marshall by touting the economic impact of major legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden and his cabinet have traveled the country emphasizing the benefits of the legislation, but getting voters to equate a patch of dirt with a law signed in Washington, D.C. is tricky. A july poll Research by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that seven in 10 Americans have heard little or nothing about the new law.

Drance, who owns several small businesses in downtown Marshall, said most residents equate the new plant not with federal money but with $1.7 billion in incentives and tax breaks offered by the state of Michigan.

“Most local communities are focused on Michigan’s incentives,” she said. “I don’t think the federal (incentives) really hit a nerve here.”

Democratic Rep. Eliza Slotkin, who is running for a vacant Senate seat in Michigan, said she routinely corrects those who think President Donald Trump is in charge of new jobs.

“I sat with people in my town and they said, ‘We’re excited to see all these new developments, thank God President Trump brought us that.’ And I said, ‘That’s not Trump. Trump talked about it. But he didn’t do it. Biden did it,'” Slotkin said.

Republican challengers for office have not shied away from criticizing the law despite the new jobs it brings. Michael Hoover, one of two Republican candidates declaring a Michigan Senate race, compared the new Ford plant to Solyndra, a solar panel startup that raked in more than $500 million before bankruptcy. dollars in government funding.

“It’s taking taxes from the working class and telling them you’re going to give this money to Ford Motor Company so they can build a factory and then they can make billions. That’s not what this country is about Where.” Go to work,” Hoover said.

How the plant will ultimately affect Marshall and his politics remains to be seen. The plant won’t be completed until 2026, further complicating the ability of Democratic candidates to issue messages about new jobs that don’t yet exist. But Allen said the fact that this development is coming could have an impact on how people vote — though the impact could go both ways.

“Some people will credit the Democrats for the region’s economic development, and we’ll vote that way,” Allen said. Vote the other way. “

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