Big Rapids business leaders optimistic about potential factory

MECOSTA COUNTY — Since the news broke of the potential of a new technologically advanced electric vehicle battery component manufacturing facility locating in the Big Rapids area, many local leaders have voiced their enthusiasm for the project.

Big Rapids and Green township officials, along with Mecosta County and Ferris State University leaders, have been working together to bring the company, Gotion, Inc., to the Big Rapids Airport Industrial Park for more than a year.

FSU President Dr. Bill Pink expressed his excitement, saying FSU stands poised and ready to assist the community and all the partners coming to the table to move the project forward.

“This is such an incredible opportunity,” Pink said. “We at the university are ready to ensure the work we do will provide training, education and the workforce we know will be needed. Not only does the university stand ready for what is in the present, but also for what we realize, from an economic development side of things, is the future of this sort of partnership.”

The development of the center for advanced battery production and the development of the certificate programs in automation and engineering will be paramount to helping students and the community, he added, and students will have opportunities that won’t be there if this project doesn’t happen.

“When we talk about the certificate programs, some of those students won’t be the 18-year-olds we have on campus,” he said. “Those students will be the 20, 30 or 40-year-olds who want to change careers and that see the opportunity at Gotion. Our university will get to be part of the education and training that gets people into great paying jobs.”

Local businesswoman and founder of Band of Locals, Carlleen Rose, who has been a resident of the community for 68 years said she “has never been more excited” for the families in Mecosta County and beyond.

“The company (Gotion) could have chosen to go into a number of areas, but they chose us,” Rose said. “Now that a once-in-a-several-decades opportunity has finally arrived, I am looking forward to watching with great enthusiasm and pride as this opportunity becomes a reality.”

She added the small business person who has slipped the key in and opened the door through years of challenges is celebrating the news of this amazing opportunity and the many future possibilities that lay ahead.

Rose said she is “not naive” to the host of challenges that will need to be worked through as this project progresses but is confident the leaders of the community can work together to meet those challenges.

“Every big project we have worked on has presented challenges and we have met them, creating award winning programs,” she said. “We work together, we solve problems together and we celebrate the results. I feel we are ready, as a community, to embrace this new business with open arms.”

‘THIS IS A RENAISSANCE’

Dave Hamelund, who is a lifelong resident of Big Rapids Township and founder of Hamtech, Inc., spoke of the “exciting prospect” that could be coming to the community.

“This opportunity has been chased by leaders of this county for many decades,” Hamelund said. “The foresight of the Big Rapids Township board to buy the land and get the grant for the underground utilities for a project of this size is truly amazing, and I hope the current boards at both townships (Big Rapids and Green), and the county , will continue that same trust to continue the positive growth in manufacturing.

“Worst case scenario, if something went wrong with the economics of the battery technology, we would have a huge manufacturing facility and a trained workforce to do something else,” he added. “Either way, this is a big win for the region of Mecosta County.”

Former FSU president Dave Eisler said that when they moved to the community 20 years ago, he had hoped and believed that Ferris could work with the community to bring something “truly remarkable” to the community.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to people over the 20 years, and it is finally happening,” Eisler said. “We finally have the opportunity to make a positive and critical difference — to take the manufacturing technical expertise and the educational excellence available to create something that will transform the community.

“The size and scope of this project really takes your breath away,” he continued. “The right name for this is ‘renaissance.’ This is a renaissance, and I am proud to be a part of it.”

Morton Township supervisor Mark Klumpp, also a lifelong resident of Mecosta County, said this opportunity to bring the company here is “a game changer.”

“A lot of my classmates got their degrees and had to move off to find work,” Klumpp said. “The opportunities our student are going to have and the opportunities our families are going to have is unbelievable. If we had property in Morton Township, I’d be sliding this guy my card. There are so many outside economic benefits to this. It’s a game changer all the way around.”

Local real estate agent with ReMax/Together, Joe McNally, said this is “next level excitement.”

“There are so many implications here, we get overwhelmingly excited,” McNally said. “In real estate, it is known that manufacturing is the biggest driver of job creation and there are stats that say there are 3.9 jobs that are created for every one manufacturing job. There are so many ancillary industries this will directly affect. To get be part of the face of this new generation of technology is very exciting.”

Paul Griffith, who has been a resident of Mecosta County for over 40 years and has been involved with MichiganWorks! West Central and several economic development boards, said he has worked on many new projects throughout the region, and none of them were as big as this project.

“All across the country, especially around election time, we often hear the phrase, ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,'” Griffith said. “We have a company who is at our doorstep that would like to bring over 2,000 clean, good paying jobs to the greater Big Rapids region over the next 10 years. Let’s make sure our enthusiastic response is ‘yes, yes, yes.’”

Mecosta County Visitor’s Bureau director Connie Koeptke said with the influx of people staying in the hotels, eating in the restaurants and shopping in the stores will be generating new money that the community desperately needs.

“I think this is overall a positive for everyone and I hope that they (Gotion) are able to proudly call this their home as proudly as we call it our home,” Koeptke said.