Published in Economic Development
Left: Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. Right: Morgan Carroll, director of business development at Greater Muskegon Economic Development.  Left: Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. Right: Morgan Carroll, director of business development at Greater Muskegon Economic Development. COURTESY PHOTOS

Wastewater pipeline to spur agribiz growth plans in West Michigan

BY Sunday, February 26, 2023 06:39pm

A new 20-mile pipeline more than a decade in the making will support growth plans for multiple West Michigan agribusinesses that have been hampered by limited wastewater infrastructure.

The $65 million project, known as the Southeast Regional Force Main, received $60 million in crucial state funding last fall from the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) Fund.

With the pipeline spanning sections of both Muskegon and Ottawa counties, economic development agencies Lakeshore Advantage Corp. and Greater Muskegon Economic Development (GMED) partnered to secure the state funding in a rare case when landing a project benefits both organizations. 

“I’ve never worked on a longer, more complex project,” said Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens. “It doesn’t happen too often that it’s a win-win on both sides. These truly collaborative win-win projects for multiple counties don’t come around too often.”

Lakeshore Advantage and GMED’s work on the project earned the organizations a 2023 MiBiz M&A Deal of the Year Award in the economic development category.

Economic Development

Lakeshore Advantage Corp. and Greater Muskegon Economic Development

  • Business description: Economic development agencies for Allegan and Ottawa counties (Lakeshore Advantage) and Muskegon County

  • Top executives: Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage,
    and Marla Schneider, president and CEO of GMED

  • Advisers on the deal: Prein & Newhof Inc. (engineering)

The pipeline will connect users of Coopersville’s wastewater treatment plant in Ottawa County to the Muskegon County Resource Recovery Center, which has been underutilized since the former Sappi Fine Paper mill on Muskegon Lake closed in 2009. 

Six total dairy producers and food processors — including the rapidly growing Fairlife LLC and Continental Dairy Facilities LLC — will connect to the line when it’s completed, which is expected in 2025. Under a $173 million joint venture announced in 2017, the two companies share a 100-acre campus in Coopersville that was formerly occupied by a General Motors Delphi plant. Both companies have a common ownership in Select Milk Producers Inc., a Dallas-based milk production cooperative. The co-op owns a 50-percent stake in Fairlife with The Coca-Cola Co. and wholly owns Continental Dairy. 

Fairlife is contributing the remaining $5 million to complete the project, while the additional companies plan to invest roughly $187 million in expansion plans over the next three to five years and create 145 jobs.

“We didn’t realize how quickly (Fairlife and Continental Dairy) would outgrow the wastewater system,” Owens said. “We knew the long-term solution was to connect Coopersville and Muskegon together with one water system. It sounds easy, but the challenge is constructing a 20-mile line underground with a 30-inch pipe is not an easy task. It’s also not something that is very cost effective for a company or a community to take on.”

Indeed, it has always been a hard sell for a single municipality to take on the costs itself. That’s when the SOAR Fund “in a lot of ways came to the rescue for this project,” Owens said.

“It’s a transformational investment,” she said.

GMED Director of Business Development Morgan Carroll joked that she was in high school when initial discussions about the project started in 2008.

“There were a couple of times where there were allocations from either the (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) or other state agencies to help with funding the pipeline, but it was something that was never able to get across the finish line because the funding needed was never available,” Carroll said.

Carroll noted that GMED and Lakeshore Advantage “both leaned on each other throughout the process and worked really great together … to help both of our communities. It really was a true economic development regional partnership that was able to make this happen.”

Both Carroll and Owens credited state lawmakers from the region for recognizing the importance of the project.

Grand Rapids Township-based Prein & Newhof Inc. is leading the engineering of the project. Construction is expected to start this spring and last for 18 months to two years. As of early February, construction on the pipeline had not yet been bid out.

Not only will the project benefit existing companies, but Owens also said “several pieces of property” along the project area could be rezoned for future development while other processors nearby could connect to the system.

“That’s one of our next steps: Looking at that line area and seeing what else might be out there,” Owens said. “That’ll be the next phase to determine what’s next.” 

Read 1456 times Last modified on Monday, 27 February 2023 15:13