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American Axle, Whirlpool secure state incentives for Southwest Michigan expansion projects

BY Tuesday, June 22, 2021 01:40pm

Automotive supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. received state backing for an expansion project in Southwest Michigan that could lead to the creation of 100 new manufacturing jobs. 

As part of a busy agenda that also included a multi-part Whirlpool Corp. project, the Michigan Strategic Fund board Tuesday approved tax relief that will allow American Axle to expand operations at its Three Rivers facility to produce advanced front and rear drive axle assembly systems as part of a newly awarded, eight-year program. 

The Tier 1 auto supplier, which is headquartered in Detroit, will manufacture the axle systems for two pickup truck programs, producing 130,000 front drive and 174,000 rear drive axles per year. The expansion is expected to create 100 new jobs at a Three Rivers facility, where the company already employs around 1,000 people.

The city of Three Rivers was granted $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to offset the company’s equipment and machinery purchases, while American Axle will invest more than $38 million in private funds to create the infrastructure for the new program.

The MSF board also granted American Axle a five-year, 100-percent State Essential Services Assessment (SESA) exemption, valued at up to $468,888 for the company’s $40,608,000 eligible personal property investment in support of the project.

If unable to secure the financial relief, American Axle was likely to move the operation to its plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, where it would only have to reconfigure its production facility rather than expanding it.

“The city of Three Rivers is pleased to support AAM in their expansion,” Three Rivers City Manager Joseph Bippus said in a statement. “AAM has been an important part of our community for many years, and this project will help the company continue to grow and provide good jobs in our area.”

The MSF board also approved measures that will benefit global household appliance manufacturer $80 million in Whirlpool Corp. projects in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.

Whirlpool plans to invest more than $60 million to rehabilitate and reconstruct its Global Laundry and Dishwasher Technical Center, which houses 400 full-time engineers and research and development professionals who make an average average salary of $140,000. Under the proposed plan, Whirlpool will demolish an existing four-story, 157,800-square-foot building, leaving 59,000 square feet of the old facility behind.

Whirlpool will then construct a state-of-the-art, two-story, 153,000-square-foot facility while renovating 20,000 square feet of the remaining facility.

In addition to the technical center, Whirlpool will partner with Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment LLC to construct Harbor Shores Apartments, a multifamily development featuring 80 apartments and 120 parking spaces on 10.65 acres of land.

The technical center and apartment projects are being carried out in tandem to increase the chances of attracting and retaining talent to the area.

The MSF board approved a $750,000 performance-based Michigan Community Revitalization Program (MCRP) grant for Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment. It also approved a brownfield work plan for the Berrien County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, including nearly $1.9 million in state tax capture for the reimbursement of brownfield activities at the technical center. 

“Today’s projects help us continue to jumpstart Michigan’s economy by creating hundreds of good-paying jobs, reinvigorating our hospitality industry, and supporting vibrant communities across Michigan,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “Through today’s significant investments and initiatives, we are reminding the world that the ingenuity and innovation of Michigan’s people and businesses remains unmatched.”

Today also marked the first MSF board meeting for new Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Quentin L. Messer.

“In order to be a championship economy we have to really create a holistic, people-first approach to economic development — it’s a team sport,” Messer told reporters before the MSF board meeting. 

“In Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, we’re working with Whirlpool to show how our business investment and community vitality efforts can go hand-in-hand to support this global company’s continued growth in the state while the company itself continues to reinvesting in its workforce and the surrounding community.”

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