BATTLE CREEK — A never-occupied plant built by a now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer in Battle Creek has a new owner and promise of even more jobs for the Southwest Michigan community.
Cosma Castings Michigan, a subsidiary of auto-supplier Magna International Inc., purchased the vacant facility at 10 North Clark Road and plans to bring 572 new jobs to area with an investment of $162 million over the next two to three years.
With the manufacturing facility sitting vacant for nearly the last five years, the community finally has reason to celebrate. Not only is a vacant property getting filled, the new project is also bringing in even more jobs that Energy Conversion Devices Inc. once promised.
“About 18 months ago, we were able to market the building as available when we realized the company was unlikely to use facility,” said Karl Dehn, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, the economic development group for the greater Battle Creek area. “Eventually, we were able to list it and attract a fair amount of interest. We’re very fortunate to be putting the building back into productive use with a company like Magna-Cosma, which is bringing even greater economic commitments.”
When the United Solar Ovonic parent company Energy Conversion Devices Inc. built the almost 268,000-square-foot facility in 2008, it received approximately $120 million worth of incentives from the federal, state and county governments.
At the time, the company promised about 350 high-tech, renewable energy sector jobs and the possibility of a second facility, but it ultimately had to file for bankruptcy a year ago after suffering a severe blow from the U.S. economic downturn and a loss of key solar economic incentives in Europe.
“Prior to the downturn, Uni-Solar had backorders and a shortage of production capacity,” Dehn said. “Shortly after, they experienced a 50-percent drop in annualized sales.”
Enter the now leaner and meaner auto supplier industry.
This time around, Magna received a $1.6 million performance-based Michigan Business Development grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund. The city of Battle Creek is also behind the project with a 50 percent real property tax abatement and 100 percent personal property tax abatement, both for 12-year periods.
The auto supplier bought the property from Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust, the company handling the liquidation of ECD’s assets after no buyer stepped forward for the company. Signature Associates represented both the buyer and the seller on the transaction. The facility had been for sale for $5.6 million, but the purchase price was not disclosed.
“Magna-Cosma is a company that has grown considerably in last three to four years and has done a good job securing business with automakers around the world. They’ve done well in Michigan, too,” Dehn said. “We anticipate the company is going to be a top-tier wage provider with high quality jobs that require considerable skill.”
For now BCU doesn’t have a timeline for when the company expects to start production, but Dehn said most of 2013 is set-aside for the company to undergo additional improvements and investments at the facility.