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Wednesday, 17 September 2014 14:49

Dicastal North America to invest $140M in Greenville production facility

Written by  Joe Boomgaard and John Wiegand
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The former Uni-Solar plant in Greenville has been purchased by a Chinese auto supplier, which will invest $140 million in developing a production facility for aluminum alloy wheels at the site. The former Uni-Solar plant in Greenville has been purchased by a Chinese auto supplier, which will invest $140 million in developing a production facility for aluminum alloy wheels at the site. MiBiz File Photo

A Chinese automotive supplier plans to breathe new life into a closed clean energy complex in Greenville.

CiTic Dicastal Co. Ltd. of Qinhuangdao, China announced today that its new division, Dicastal North America, plans to invest $140 million to open a production facility located at the former United Solar Ovonic LLC (Uni-Solar) campus in Greenville. The facility – Diecastal’s first in Michigan – is expected to become operational in late 2015.

A manufacturer of aluminum alloy wheels, Dicastal plans to add 300 new jobs over four years as part of the investment. The company expects to produce 3 million wheels annually in Greenville.

To accommodate growth, the supplier purchased the surrounding 98-acre parcel and plans to build an additional 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Signature Associates | Cushman & Wakefield led the real estate transaction for the project.

The campus, which includes two large production facilities, was idled in 2012 when Uni-Solar’s parent company, Energy Conversion Devices Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The irony of China-based Dicastal’s arrival in the West Michigan market wasn’t lost on Mike Wall, an automotive analyst in Grand Rapids at IHS Automotive Group.

“This is a Chinese manufacturer coming to Michigan to build wheels. With aluminum wheels, there had been a move to send some of that production to China in the past, so there is a sense of irony there,” Wall told MiBiz. “It’s a testament to the value proposition of manufacturing in the U.S and the cost creep of labor and logistics of building (products in) China. There are more companies looking at the North American market for growth.”

The Uni-Solar story also adds to the irony, Wall said.

The Auburn Hills-based firm opened its first Greenville plant in 2007 followed by a second facility a year later in 2008. The community and elected officials heralded the manufacturer of flexible, thin-film photovoltaic products as Greenville’s white knight after appliance maker Electrolux closed up its production facility in 2006 and moved the jobs to Mexico.

Uni-Solar had hoped to employ 800 people in the Greenville alone, but a challenging economy, a slow construction market and changes to European energy tariffs dried up orders for the company’s solar energy products. At the time, executives and analysts also cited the presence of cheap Chinese solar panels as a contributing factor to Uni-Solar’s demise.

West Michigan’s manufacturing rebound – fueled in part with Chinese backing, in the case of Dicastal – helps paint a positive picture of the region’s global competitiveness, Wall said. The development also shows the strength of the state’s legacy in the automotive supply chain and the vulnerability of emerging sectors such as clean energy, he added.

“Old-school, traditional manufacturing comes back and fills the gap,” Wall said. “It’s a great thing for West Michigan when we can bring more traditional manufacturing here. In this case, it’s wheels, and next week, hopefully, it’s another component.”

The Greenville facility also is not the first Uni-Solar plant to be converted for automotive supply chain production.

In 2008, Uni-Solar built a 268,000-square-foot plant in Battle Creek but never moved into the facility – despite receiving approximately $120 million worth of incentives from the federal, state and county governments, as MiBiz previously reported.

Last year, Cosma Castings Michigan, a subsidiary of auto supplier Magna International Inc., purchased the vacant facility at 10 North Clark Road and announced plans to bring 572 new jobs to area with an investment of $162 million over the next two to three years.

In Greenville, Dicastal’s investment is being supported by a $8.5 million incentive package including a combination of Michigan Business Development Program grants, property tax abatements, Community Development Block Grants and energy incentives, according to The Right Place Inc.

“We’ve always known that the Uni-Solar site is an ideal location for some company, and that we have skilled workers, so we believe we’ve found a solid match in Dicastal,” George Bosanic, city manager of Greenville, said in a statement. “This project is a great example of local, regional and state economic development agencies working together to recruit on a global level.”

News of the new use for the Uni-Solar plant also comes amid a reprisal of sorts for the legacy of the company’s founder, the late Stan Ovshinsky. Crain’s Detroit Business reported this week that some of Ovshinsky’s former colleagues launched Ovshinsky Technologies LLC in Pontiac earlier this year to continue work on his solar technology.

Read 26019 times Last modified on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 15:15

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