by Scott McClallen
A planned electric vehicle battery plant has been paused after locals asked questions about Chinese ownership of the company.
The Big Rapids Township board voted for a federal review of national security risks with the Chinese company Gotion Inc., a subsidiary of China-based Gotion High-Tech Co., Ltd., a global manufacturer of electric vehicle batteries.
Dubbed Project Elephant, the plant as previously approved required 408 acres in Green Township and 115.33 acres in Big Rapids Township, according to a Big Rapids Township FAQ page. State and local officials have pledged $715 million of Michigan Strategic Fund taxpayer dollars for the project.
Big Rapids Township Supervisor Bill Stanek said in a phone interview with The Center Square that the project is moving ahead “full steam” in Green Township, and it was a “big loss” for the Big Rapids community. Gotion claimed the plant would create up to 2,350 jobs over 10 years.
The pause resulted from a lawyer for Big Rapids Township sending a Feb. 10 letter to Gotion, asking 31 questions about the economic, social, and environmental ramifications of the project.
Lawyers for Gotion responded in a Feb. 22 letter that answered none of the questions.
Jared T Belka of Warner Norcross and Judd wrote: “In regards to the Township’s requested responses to your letter, it is my understanding that many of the questions were previously answered and are available on the Township’s website. As it relates to the more specific questions surrounding utilities, the project hasn’t been fully engineered at this point and we will reach out to the Township once more detailed site engineering is available.”
Big Rapids Township clerk Hannah Saez said Gotion refocused their efforts elsewhere before answering questions.
“[I]t’s extremely unfortunate that Gotion decided to refocus their efforts entirely on Green Township before answering the questions requested upon them by our board, generated by our residents, board, engineers, and other experts,” Saez told The Center Square in an email.
Saez said they were only given correspondence from The Right Place, a greater Grand Rapids economic development group, not Gotion.
“As soon as they discovered we voted as a board to comply with Executive Order 14083, and request a review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, they then let us know they were no longer focusing on development in Big Rapids Township,” Saez wrote. “We understand they feel that they need to be ‘anticipated’ for this location, however, if they have nothing to ‘hide’, we’re not sure why they wouldn’t comply.”
Saez said that they never received direct answers from Gotion.
“Our only focus is to bring consideration of the top concerns our residents have, seek answers to those concerns, and to make sure that something of this magnitude is what our community wants, and lastly will be best for the generations to follow,” Saez wrote. “If we would have been given direct answers to many of our questions, we would have potentially felt much more comfortable providing our community with the answers they deserve.”
Gotion hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.
A Sept. 23 letter from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation offered Gotion up to $1.14 billion in subsidies counting state, local, and utility incentives.
The Michigan Strategic Fund has approved $715 million in taxpayer subsidies for the company.
Similar concerns have arisen from the proposed Ford plant in Marshall, for which the state wants $1.75 billion in subsidies. Ford says its relationship with Chinese battery company CATL is only “a technical service provider for the plant.”
In 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray called China the “greatest long-term threat” to the United States, saying they steal intellectual property.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Vehicle Manufacturing” by carlos aranda.
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Liberal policies are killing the working people of Michigan. Both figuratively and literally.