Calhoun County

Marshall megasite positioned for global success

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.

Marshall could soon be a leading contender in the worldwide production of electric vehicle batteries and semi-conductors, says Jim Durian, CEO of the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance (MAEDA).
In August officials with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that a more than 1,800-acre megasite in Marshall would share $5 million in state funding with two other property sites – one in Genesee County and one in the Lansing region. The Marshall property is bordered by 12 Mile Road to the west to 15 Mile Road to the east with major highways I-69 running north to south and I-94 running east to west.

The funds will be used to prepare each of the three sites for development. The goal is to boost Michigan’s competitiveness for the biggest industrial deals in the United States, according to the MEDC. The focus of the funding is part of the MEDC’s Michigan Build Ready Sites program.
“When I first started my job COVID happened and things were pretty slow until 18 months ago and now we’re very busy,” Durian says. “We’ve had both site selectors and companies within the electric vehicle and semi-conductor sectors look at the site. These are the two hot sectors now. We’ve been really busy in the last 60 days.”

A shot from a video that explains to would-be developers the advantages of the megasite near Marshall.Megasites are the location of choice for these companies because they are developing huge projects that require a lot of land and need to be near a highly-skilled workforce, Durian says. He says the companies such sites draw create good-paying jobs with career pathways. So in addition to having the necessary space and infrastructure, companies also look at the potential for building a talent pipeline.
These companies employ upwards of 5,000 people so being able to tap into the educational expertise available at nearby colleges and universities including Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, and Kellogg Community College coupled with the ability to draw from a workforce of more than 500,000 people within a 60-mile radius of the megasite, is very desirable for companies considering locating to the megasite, Durian says.
The frustration for economic development leaders like Durian is “that it could be tomorrow or 10 years from now” before a company will decide to locate to his megasite, he says.
James Durian, CEO of the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance.Despite this unknown, Durian says the site has to be ready for development when a prospective tenant says “go.” The just over $1 million that Marshall received from that $5 million pool of state funds will be used to ensure that the Marshall Megasite is ready for development by companies looking to locate facilities there. 

In economic development parlance, the term used to describe this is “shovel ready” status, which means the site meets standards for appropriate planning and zoning, has a boundary survey, and has proper soil and environmental conditions.

“It's developable land,” Durian says. “That means there are no contaminants or environmental issues attached. It’s a clean, buildable site. We’re investing in the site with a comprehensive strategic site plan and we just finished an underground survey. We also have archeological information and a traffic study.  There’s tons of information we can give to a company.”
About 80 percent of the close to 1,864-acre megasite is made up of vacant land or farmland, the majority of which is owned by four individuals who have either rented their land out to farmers or are farming the land themselves. The remainder of the megasite property is some residential and smaller commercial operations, Durian says.

“We would like to build it out to about 2,000 acres,” he says. “There are a few more parcels of land here and there that we might want to acquire to strengthen it. It’s an enormous site.”
A megasite is considered anything over 1,000 acres. “Megasites, also called supersites, are large contiguous tracts of land that are choice locations for big industrial operations. These properties are usually owned by or optioned to state or local economic development authorities. Megasite is a loosely used term and has variable meanings for different economic development groups and agencies,” according to the website Area Development.
“(We are) working aggressively to grow and secure our inventory of investment-ready sites in the state, including the Marshall site which has continued to grow in size as well as a mega site in the Lansing area,” a spokesperson for the Michigan Economic Development Council says in a statement. “That includes working closely with our local partners and energy partners to assemble land, address infrastructure needs and ensure sites are meeting the business growth and attraction needs of the regions they are in.”
A shot from a video that explains to would-be developers the advantages of the megasite near Marshall.The owners of the property within the Marshall Megasite have each voluntarily entered into three-year agreements with Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance through which the state pays the property owners annually in return for their having entered into the agreement. The agreements basically say that if the land they own comes up for purchase by a company, they will vacate the property and be paid for the land.
The nonprofit MAEDA could purchase the property and hand it over to a company or assign the property and hand it off to state, Durian says.
“The landowners own it. We would trigger an option agreement to purchase the property and give it to the company. The state would probably provide it to the company at no cost as part of an incentive package,” he says. “As an example, let’s say that a company says it will purchase 1,000 acres on the east side, then we would purchase that land from the owners and sell it to the company which many times expects it for free or at a lower cost.”
Durian likens it to a scenario that, “If you’re a homeowner with a residential home and someone says they would like to buy your property, it’s up to them if they want to move or not or enter into an agreement.  We do pay them on an annual basis just to have an agreement and the state offers, through us, a generous purchase price for the property.”

While not disclosing what those purchase prices could be, Durian says, “I’d love to have property in the megasite.”
A shot from a video that explains to would-be developers the advantages of the megasite near Marshall.The idea of the Marshall megasite has been around for decades, but it was only recently that there was investment in it and ultimately this is what will lead to its success, he says.
“Sometimes people get concerned about land acquisition and overall development. There is a pot of money available and we’re just trying to get that money spent in Marshall,” Durian says.
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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.