By Benjamin J. Gohs
A $130 million plan to upgrade and modernize Votorantim’s Great Lakes cement production could materialize in Charlevoix.
Marty Fallon, CEO of Votorantim Cement North America/St. Marys Cement Inc., along with company spokesman Cortney Schmidt, other company officials and local economic development experts presented their potential project at the Monday Jan. 12 Charlevoix Township Board of Trustees meeting.
“We’re looking at possibly investing approximately $130 million into the Charlevoix community,” said Schmidt. “In that process we feel, to put that into motion, we would need to employ 200 to 300 full-time employees to do the building of it with outside contractors … and we anticipate that it would take over two years.”
He added, “Then, after that, we would be looking at needing an additional 10 full-time employees added to current staff.”
The modernization and expansion of production is necessary, Schmidt said, because the market for cement has begun to bounce back after a six-year lull. Schmidt also said he has no idea what it would cost to get the Dixon, Ill. plant back up and running.
“In approximately 2008, the market tanked considerably,” Schmidt said. “All this will basically do is allow us to manufacture cement more effectively while lowering our emissions and meeting market demands.”
According to Schmidt, when the demand for cement dropped off several years ago, some producers—including St. Marys—decreased their production accordingly. Some cement producers, like the old Dundee plant near Detroit, closed permanently.
“We took all our assets and orders for Dixon and moved them up to Charlevoix,” said Schmidt.
While St. Marys currently produces nearly 1.3 million tons of cement annually, the company’s Dixon, Ill. plant used to produce nearly 700,000 tons—a quantity St Marys officials want to start producing once again.
So, to make the nearly 2 million tons of cement St Marys says the market is now or will soon be demanding, the question is whether to spend an undisclosed amount to get Dixon back online or to improve the Charlevoix facility.
“As market conditions are starting to come back, you don’t have the other plants to meet the larger demand,” Schmidt said. “Why are we doing this? The market is not screaming back but we’re seeing signs of improvements.”
In order to make a project of this scale happen, there are several things that need to be done by local officials before St. Marys will make a decision.
First, the Charlevoix Township Board will need to create an Industrial Development District (IDD). Since St. Marys is also seeking brownfield status on a portion of its property, both the Charlevoix County Brownfield Authority and Charlevoix Township Board of Trustees will need to approve such a request. Thirdly, St. Marys is seeking a major tax abatement on the new construction, should it choose to go with Charlevoix.
“They gave us parameters and they told us what they were going to do,” said Charlevoix Township Board Supervisor Chuck Center. “Right now we’re working on the industrial district because there isn’t one out there—which is surprising—and that means they can’t apply for an abatement yet.”
He added, “So, what the township has to do is approve the IDD, and the application for the abatement comes after.”
According to Center, the Brownfield request has to do with an existing structure St. Marys would like to demolish so it can create a new building.
“We tabled it last night and we will meet again in two weeks (Monday Jan. 26) … to vote on it,” he said.
A meeting regarding the Brownfield status request was scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 13 at the Charlevoix County Building.
“If the board approves the tax abatement, it would not change the tax that they’re receiving now,” said Schmidt. “It would lessen the tax on the changes to the plant—the public will not be impacted negatively by doing this.”
He added, “What does change is, when we add approximately $130 million of equipment and structures or whatever it encompasses, there is a period of time where the plant can recoup some of that investment without being taxed on it.”
Center said of the 30 or 40 people who attended the township board meeting, all of the comments on the potential project were positive.
“It’s quite a process but it’s $130 million of new construction and about 10 new jobs,” he said… “The neat thing about it is the longevity of the plant—if they spend $130 million in Charlevoix, they are going to be in Charlevoix for awhile.”
Center said the board is looking to get public feedback on the matter over the next couple of weeks.
Call or e-mail to share your comments at (231) 547-4611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Center, no official plans have been submitted to the Charlevoix County Planning Commission.
Schmidt closed by saying that, right now, the CEO is simply building a case for both towns to help his board determine which location will be right for the potential project.
“He likes Charlevoix and he likes Dixon, but he’s a business man,” said Schmidt. “He’s going to build the best business case for both locations and present that to the owners of the company.”
In a recent statement, Fallon said St. Marys Cement’s exploration of a possible land-swap with Fisherman’s Island State Park has nothing to do with this new potential project.
Look for an update on the Brownfield meeting and reactions about this story from locals in the Wednesday Jan. 21 edition of the Boyne City Gazette.
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