Published in Economic Development

Northern Michigan tribe pitches former Pugsley jail site for space command center

BY Sunday, August 02, 2020 07:50pm

KINGSLEY — Among the many plans sketched out for the Grand Traverse Science and Technology Innovation Center, the roughly 145-acre location could potentially become a key component in making Michigan a bonafide space state.

Owned and operated by Grand Traverse Economic Development (GTED), the non-gaming commercial investment arm of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, GT STIC is a proposed site for a state command and control center, the final piece of a growing space ecosystem in Michigan.


The GT STIC has taken up residency at the former Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley, a 1,300-bed state prison complex that was shut down in 2016.

The process of creating this ecosystem began in June of last year when the Michigan Legislature appropriated $2 million to assess the feasibility of developing one or more low-orbit launch sites in Michigan. This year, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), a member-supported organization that serves the interests of Michigan’s aerospace and defense manufacturing firms, revealed that Oscoda and, more recently, Marquette were ideal for the horizontal and vertical launching sites, respectively. Operations are expected to begin in Marquette in 2025 and in Oscoda in late 2023.

Along with the yet-to-be-announced command and control center, MAMA hopes to build out all three components fully by 2025.

Establishing both launch sites and the command and control center would create 2,000 jobs, while employment could balloon to 40,000 jobs once they’re fully built out, according to MAMA.

“It would bring hundreds of jobs to the area — higher paying, I.T., technology jobs but it will also bring construction opportunities and other work,” Grand Traverse Economic Development CEO Roger Stull said of the prospect of the command center coming to Kingsley. “It would also bring a lot of companies to the area — probably satellite system companies and others that could be involved in the whole (Michigan Launch Initiative).”

MAMA has conducted a phase one feasibility study on the GT STIC, which takes into account landscape, resources and assets. In many ways mimicking a military base, GT STIC is certainly attractive to MAMA as the public awaits the official announcement, slated for November or December.

Gavin Brown, executive director of MAMA, said that GT STIC is one of 10 candidates that are all on equal footing.

“GTED has done a good job of vertically integrating many different aspects of engineering, manufacturing and addressing both the ecosystem of capabilities and advanced manufacturing and then looking outward and saying ‘Where is this most applicable?’” Brown said. “With our organization, it’s utilizing those capabilities for space and aerospace.”

Seeking tenants

GTED has been busy over the spring and summer preparing the former Pugsley Correctional Facility to welcome tenants and serve as a home for a variety of jobs training.

Grand Traverse Engineering and Construction (GTEC), a tribally-owned firm specializing in civil engineering, construction management, and transportation planning, has been managing the property and spent the spring and summer working on infrastructure upgrades to the old correctional facility. GTED’s vision for GT STIC is to utilize the 40 acres inside the secure fencing and 105 acres outside, in addition to about a dozen buildings on campus.

GTED is in the process of welcoming in two early tenants, one of which is Bayshore Steel Works, a company it acquired in January 2019. Bayshore Steel Works is a Charlevoix-based steel fabricator that works as a defense subcontractor making armored plating for products.

The expansion at GT STIC allows BSSW to do work that it would otherwise outsource, which is a rarity for a steel manufacturer to manage the entire spectrum of its production.

“One process they hire out is a water jetting operation,” said Paul Bussey, CEO of GTEC. “If they have certain cuts in the steel that require a water jet, they hire that out. Instead of continuing on that path, they’re able to bring that in house and do that in Traverse City.”

Satellite communications firm ATLAS Space Operations, a prototypical tenant GTED is wooing to the facility, also will set up a satellite communications asset on the property with a second one planned shortly thereafter.

GTED continues to seek GT STIC tenants in industries such as aerospace and satellite manufacturing, cloud-based big data, data warehousing, secure data centers, product distributors and other associated industries.

Training focus

In addition, GTED will be home to STEM, manufacturing, construction and other trades training and certification courses and on-site technology job opportunities for Grand Traverse Band and other tribe members, veterans and more.

“A large component of what we’re doing here is trades training for manufacturing, construction, any of these advanced manufacturing operations,” Bussey said. “(We’re doing anything) to get our service members who are leaving service trained into new career paths — any of the tribal members of any tribe and also really for anyone. Since we operate a diverse array of business lines under the GTED umbrella, we’re kind of serving our self-interest by building this pipeline of talent to work at our various companies.”

GTED considered other properties for GT STIC before Pugsley became available, but the former correctional facility was too good to pass up after a redevelopment project fell through at the beginning of the year.

“We were already searching for property in the Traverse City/Grand Traverse area for the Bayshore expansion,” Bussey said. “We had settled on a couple of sites that were interesting and we were down to the wire to make a decision on the property. (Then) we became aware of the Camp Pugsley facility – it wasn’t an option before.

“We said, well, this checks the box for what Bayshore was requiring but also all the opportunities that were available based on the existing infrastructure, amount of property that was available and it was in line with a couple of the other businesses that (we had developed). ... It was a very logical process.”

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