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Ferris State University President Bill Pink (center) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Ferris State’s Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids on Oct. 5. Officials gathered to celebrate plans for $2.36 billion electric vehicle battery manufacturing project near Ferris State’s Big Rapids campus. Ferris State University President Bill Pink (center) and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Ferris State’s Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids on Oct. 5. Officials gathered to celebrate plans for $2.36 billion electric vehicle battery manufacturing project near Ferris State’s Big Rapids campus. COURTESY OF FERRIS STATE UNIVERSITY

Large battery projects create EV workforce training opportunities for higher ed

BY Mark Sanchez and Andy Balaskovitz Thursday, October 06, 2022 04:23pm

MECOSTA COUNTY — Landing large battery manufacturing plants that promise to drive billions of dollars in investments and create thousands of jobs represents not just major economic development for Michigan but also a significant opportunity for educators.

The workers who will staff the new plants in the years ahead will need training to work in the burgeoning electric vehicle and battery storage industries.

That’s where Ferris State University President Bill Pink sees opportunity and a need for Michigan’s universities and community colleges to coordinate training, certification programs and best practices to create the talent base the industry needs in Michigan.

According to state and local economic development officials, Ferris State was a key player in luring Gotion Inc. to Mecosta County, where the company plans to invest up to $2.36 billion at a sprawling plant that would span two townships and create up to 2,350 jobs. The plant would produce battery cells for electric vehicles. The company would eclipse Ferris State as the largest employer in the area.

Pink, who assumed the presidency at Ferris State in July, envisions the university becoming a leader in training workers for the new industry and working to create a training consortium with colleagues across Michigan. The effort would include universities, community colleges, MichiganWorks! workforce development agencies, and economic development organizations, he said.

“Those are connections from an economic development perspective that all have to come to this table and say, ‘Here’s how we partner to create what I’m calling an ecosystem,” said Pink, who formerly served as president of Grand Rapids Community College before joining Ferris State.

“If we can do it around (electric vehicles), that as a state will teach us now the best practice of how to get that kind of education out,” Pink said.

The Gotion project was one of two major battery plants that the Michigan Strategic Fund Board approved for state assistance on Wednesday. In Wayne County’s Van Buren Township, Novi-based Our Next Energy (ONE) Inc. plans to develop a $1.6 billion battery manufacturing plant that will create 2,112 jobs in the industry.

The Gotion and ONE projects are in addition to Ford Motor Co.’s plan announced in June to invest $2 billion across its Michigan plants to build electric vehicles and create 3,200 jobs, and General Motors’ $7 billion plan for EV and battery production at plants in Lansing and Orion Township.

As well, LG Energy Solution Michigan Inc. is pursuing a $1.7 billion lithium-ion battery manufacturing expansion in Holland that could create up to 1,200 jobs.

Training specialties

Any training initiative established to prepare workers for those jobs will need to occur in partnership with each of the manufacturers, Pink said.

“One thing we’ll do with Gotion will help us learn as well. They will teach us what that need looks like as far as this sector is concerned as we build these programs,” he said. “That means we’re going to have a partnership where they’re going to help us learn, and we’re going to help them in getting that workforce.”

Pink has experience in that area. Grand Rapids Community College partnered in the past to train workers for LG Energy Solution in Holland. He’s also served on the board at West Michigan Works! and at The Right Place Inc.

Gotion’s plan will require Ferris State to rise to the occasion to accommodate the largest economic development project ever for the Big Rapids area.

“It’s pressure I gladly take because I think it is an opportunity for Ferris State,” he said. “I want us to be the leader in how we educate and train folks in this EV space.”

Ferris State Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bobby Fleischman noted the university’s “advanced knowledge and program maturity” in areas including welding engineering of exotic materials, plastics engineering and injection mold design, metrology labs and quality engineering.

“The state has already invested significantly in developing these program areas and laboratories at Ferris State,” Fleischman said in a statement. “Leveraging this capability for advanced battery production education and research at Ferris State University is forward thinking and economical to produce the workforce the battery industry needs.”

Ferris State’s role in Big Rapids helped attract Gotion to the area, according to Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Quentin Messer, Jr. The university “has been able to develop really significant strengths in engineering and also the flexibility to craft unique, tailored programs,” Messer said.

“They are working closely with Gotion to really make sure they’re providing the type of customized talent solutions such that the time from someone graduating or getting a credential from Ferris to the time that man or woman is making an individual contribution for the company is minimized,” Messer said during a media briefing this week. “That is something that is in progress and formation as they continue to understand the unique needs they will have. They will obviously be working very closely. But I think it’s that ability to customize and the fact of the tremendous history of Ferris State was very attractive to Gotion.”

Manufacturers plan their new facilities as outlooks forecast rapid growth in electric vehicle sales in the U.S.

An annual global automotive outlook Detroit-based AlixPartners issued in June projects that battery-powered electric vehicles will “be the majority vehicle type by 2035 in all major regions, surpassing internal-combustion-engine vehicles.”

AlixPartners said automakers and suppliers plan to invest $526 billion between now and 2026 to transition the industry.

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Read 2247 times Last modified on Thursday, 06 October 2022 19:46
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