Detroit luring manufacturers to industrial park, vacant land

Detroit luring manufacturers to industrial park, vacant land
  1. Detroit luring manufacturers to industrial park, vacant land
    DETROIT — Rust Belt cities like Detroit are improving their industrial and manufacturing landscapes by collecting, cleaning up and marketing acres of once-vacant land to job-supplying…

In this July 19, 2017 photo, heavy machinery clearing land at the Interstate 94 Industrial Park in Detroit. The park is former vacant land that the city is marketing to manufacturing and industrial companies. Auto parts supplier Flex-N-Gate is expected to bring 750 jobs to Detroit when it completes its 350,000-square-foot plant at the industrial park. (AP Photo/Corey Williams)

DETROIT — Inside a fenced construction site on Detroit's east side, heavy machines are digging, shoving and hauling away tons of dirt in preparations for the latest addition to the city's industrial landscape.

Auto parts supplier Flex-N-Gate is expected to bring 750 jobs to Detroit when it completes its 350,000-square-foot (32,500-square-meter) plant at the Interstate 94 Industrial Park. It will join several other firms that are investing millions of dollars where only so many years ago manufacturing jobs were disappearing.

The changes come as Detroit, like many other Rust Belt cities, looks to lure firms with just what they're looking for: vacant land where they can build and grow.

"I do not think Detroit is a tough sell. What we find when we're speaking with prospects is they want to be within a rich and robust cluster of other automotive and other advanced industries. We have that healthy supply chain with regard to automotive and advanced manufacturing," said Peter Chapman, Detroit Economic Growth Corp. executive vice-president for business development.

A 2012 study found Detroit had about 20 square miles (52 square kilometres) of vacant land across its 139 square miles (224-square-kilometres). Quasi-governmental groups such as land banks are empowered by cities to find, acquire and clean up the land to compete with suburban communities that have open expanses of cleaner soil. Since most of the vacant land isn't connected, those groups buy up adjacent lots here and there to make usable larger pieces.

Detroit's prime site for new manufacturing is the 186-acre (75-hectare) I-94 Industrial Park northeast of downtown. Flex-N-Gate is scheduled to open there next year.

It's "an example of ... past work assembling smaller parcels into larger ones to accommodate a manufacturing operation such as the new Flex-N-Gate facility," Chapman said.

Other companies already in Detroit or moving into the city include Sakthi Automotive Group, which is planning an 180,000-square-foot ($16,700-square-meter) expansion in southwest Detroit. ArcelorMittal plans to move into a 317,000-square-foot (29,400-square-meter) building in the I-94 Industrial Park to make steel blanks for the automotive industry. Linc Logistics' 500,000-square-foot (46,400-square-meter) facility was the first new tenant there after Michigan made the industrial park a tax-free zone to help attract companies and jobs.

Hoping to capitalize on companies' desire for vacant land, Detroit is undertaking a land-mapping analysis to identify vacant and under-utilized parcels that could be assembled into larger parcels.

"You've got to have the acreage assembled to be able to accommodate a facility of 200,000 to 400,000 square feet ... tracts of land that can be assembled that are in good location and have access to roads, so you're not running trucks through neighbourhoods," said Michael Samhat, president of Crown Enterprises which developed and owns the Linc Logistics site at the industrial park.

Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institution, said it's not just about "real estate," but about access "to a talent po…

Detroit luring manufacturers to industrial park, vacant land
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