Gotion announced plans last October for a $2.4 billion electric vehicle battery parts facility on the outskirts of Big Rapids. The project would receive more than $800 million in incentives, including about $636 million in tax abatements over 30 years and $175 million in funding from Michigan’s business incentive program, the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund (remember, this all is taxpayers’ money).
Gotion was founded in China in 2006, but its U.S. subsidiary has been incorporated in California since 2014. Volkswagen AG owns more than 26% of the company. Its board is one-third German, one-third American and one-third Chinese.
Recently, however, blowback has mounted against the project from both within and outside the Big Rapids community.
Former Ambassadors Pete HOEKSTRA and Joe CILLA, both from Michigan, have been out front questioning Gotion’s relationship with the Chinese Community Party and whether the $2.36 billion is a national security risk. They asked U.S. Rep. John MOOLENAAR (R-Midland) to request a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to determine if there is a national security threat.
They’ve also asked U.S. Gary PETERS (D-Oakland County), who prides himself on his military and national security chops, to appeal to the National Security Division of the Department of Justice to review any violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act by parties advocating for the project.
As a result of all this, Gotion announced last week that it is delaying its application to rezone a piece of property in Green Township, Mecosta County, to learn the findings of a federal government review and educate the public on its overall plans for the area.
MIRS newsletter quotes Chuck THELEN, a Gotion spokesperson, as saying: “Once the facts are presented,” officials will be able to answer any questions and “show the tremendous benefit to the community.”
“Our decision will not affect our anticipated timetable,” Thelen said. “Gotion will continue to work diligently with local residents, township and county officials, and other key stakeholders to ensure the project’s success. We’re excited to make Mecosta County our home.”
However, in addition to Hoekstra and Cilla, a pair of Republican state representatives is calling for an inquiry into Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) for misuse of power against a local farm opposed to the Gotion battery plant.
MDARD launched an investigation of Majestic Friesians Horse Farm in Green Charter Township in Mecosta County. The investigation came nearly two weeks after the owner of the farm, Lori Brock, hosted a rally against the proposed battery plant.
“I feel like we’re being harassed,” Brock exclaimed. “They are trying to shut me up. They’re trying to scare me and I’m not going to put up with it.”
The two House members said the circumstances between Brock’s vocal opposition to the plant and the investigation seem “too coincidental to be unrelated as far as our offices are concerned.”
“Ms. Brock has been farming that land for over two decades,” the lawmakers’ letter read. “And yet only now, after she has become an outspoken opponent of the plant and held rallies against it at her farm, she suddenly finds herself under fire from the very agency that should be supporting her and her farm.”
The complaint, which appears to have been submitted from outside Whitmer’s MDARD, alleged manure run-off into tributaries of the Muskegon River.
But Bryan Posthumus (R-Rockford) said, as a farmer with 20 horses on 120 acres, the idea of a manure runoff problem is not feasible. He said his family farm maxed out at 28 horses on 20 acres, “but never once did anybody ever randomly stop by and give me a letter. “This is clearly targeted to the protests against Gotion,” he said. Hm-m-m …
But wait! The next day — after Posthumus’s complaint — MDARD types showed up at Brock’s door and said “Oh, never mind” and withdrew their investigation.
Meanwhile, it appears a Norwegian clean energy company is coming to Michigan with no opposition whatsoever. Gov. Gretchen WHITMER was attending the 2023 SelectUSA Investment Summit In Maryland last week when she announced a Norwegian manufacturing company would be opening a factory in Michigan.
Nel Hydrogen CEO Håkon VOLLDAL joined Whitmer, Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Quentin MESSER Jr., and Detroit Regional Partnership President Maureen KRAUSS to talk about opening an automated gigawatt electrolyzer factory in the state.
“Earlier this year, I went on an economic mission to Europe to show the world what Michigan has to offer, and as a result of our efforts on the trip, we secured an investment from Nel to continue building on our leadership in cars, chips, and clean energy,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer and Messer met with executives from Nel in January during the Governor’s first foreign trip (See “Whitmer, Messer Discuss Clean Energy In Norway,” 1/17/23).
“The choice of Michigan is based on an overall assessment of what the state can offer in terms of financial incentives, access to a highly skilled workforce, and cooperation with universities, research institutions, and strategic partners,” Volldal said. “I will also highlight the personal engagement from Gov. Whitmer and her competent and service-minded team.”
Volldal also said the business collaborates frequently with General Motors, which is headquartered in Detroit, as an additional incentive. The two companies produce a part that allows for the quick creation of hydrogen by breaking apart water molecules.
The location of the factory was still being determined but was expected to create the equipment to produce those devices. The factory is expected to be fully automated, but Whitmer said it could create more than 500 jobs and generate $400 million in capital investment.
Whitmer said there is a critical need for electrolyzers produced in the United States and there was money from the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act that would create 10 hydrogen hubs, which would create further funding from the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Office.
No Republican has raised any objections to Nel Hydrogen.
So, the Whitmer administration is “all in” on these two projects, one Norwegian and one Chinese. Is there any political significance to this? Can Republicans make the “Chinese Communist Party” an issue in next year’s election? Could control of the state House of Representatives hang on where the Democratic and Republican candidates stand on a proposed China-influenced battery plant in a rural Michigan county? Can Republicans paint a picture for voters where the GOP is “Norwegian” but Democrats are “China?” Or is this all xenophobia on steroids?
Answer 1): It’s xenophobia, and it’s hard to believe any Democratic state lawmaker will lose his or her seat next year because they’re perceived as “soft on China.” It’s OK to be suspicious these days about China and its intentions, but the GOP shouldn’t risk throwing away the votes of an important constituency. Even though the GOP’s problem is with China, or more specifically the Chinese Communist Party, Republicans should be careful that the Asian-American community doesn’t read this as “anti-Asian.” The GOP already doesn’t do nearly as well electorally with Asian-Americans as it should. Some of the basic tenets of Republicanism are entirely compatible with ethnic minorities in the Pacific Rim culture, who should be voting for Republican candidates in greater numbers than they have been. There are valid reasons for questioning the Gotion venture in Mecosta Co., but the GOP should be wary that its opposition isn’t read as fear of the “Yellow Peril.”