MUSKEGON, MI – The announcement from a Chicago wind industry conference Monday of a budding partnership to develop the alternative energy industry in Muskegon and across the state is about one thing: Jobs.
The new Michigan Energy + Technology Center formed by Consumers Energy, Rockford Berge and a number of Michigan alternative energy companies in conjunction with Michigan State University has the potential to be a job creator.
“It is all about creating jobs and economic growth in Muskegon and in the entire state of Michigan,” said Consumers Energy spokesman Dennis Marvin, who works in the Jackson-based public utility’s new generation division. “We are pleased with the great potential that METC has to offer.”
METC – a consortium of companies mainly from West Michigan – began more than a year a half ago. The companies are gathering forces to best put to use “homegrown” assets in Michigan from the logistics resources of Muskegon’s port to engineering and advanced manufacturing capabilities in West Michigan and other parts of the state, Marvin said.
Michigan State University’s involvement through its Business-CONNECT program hopes to get METC companies involved with professors and researchers in the areas of composite materials, logistics and advanced energy storage devices, among others. The collaborative is creating METC@MSU, a virtual clean technology and logistics research center initially managed over the Internet.
“In the areas of advanced manufacturing and logistics, we hope to bring new entrepreneurs forward coming out of the ideas created at the MSU center,” Marvin said.
The METC initiative, which includes work on developing Muskegon’s port infrastructure on Muskegon Lake, mirrors other work going on to develop the Port of Muskegon. METC hopes to market the port as “43 Degrees North@Muskegon,” in reference to the latitude coordinate of Muskegon.Muskegon County has led a Port Advisory Committee that has brought together government officials from the county and city of Muskegon to work with Muskegon Lake stakeholders, including property owners and those operating out of Muskegon’s port. Both Sand Products Corp., which operates the Mart Dock, and Verplank Trucking Co., which has multiple Muskegon Lake docks for construction materials, are members of the METC group.
“I think we are all on the same page with this as the METC announcement is very exciting,” said County Commissioner Terry Sabo, chairman of the Muskegon County Public Works Board and head of the Port Advisory Committee. “We are building a base in which we all will work toward creating Muskegon as the state’s premiere deep-water port.”
County and city officials are excited to see Consumer Energy become proactive in exploring possible uses of the B.C. Cobb Generating Plant on the east end of Muskegon Lake, a coal-fired power plant targeted to be “mothballed” at the beginning of 2015. Consumers Energy has offered the plant’s 1,800-foot long coal dock – rebuilt in 2008 at a cost of $11 million – to enhance Muskegon port operations even before a decision is made to close the plant.
“We have told METC and the community that we have committed the B.C. Cobb dock,” Marvin said. “We are happy to put our port in play for expansion of the Port of Muskegon. We now only receive three shipments of coal on the dock a month. It can be used for other things.”
Cathy Brubaker-Clarke, the city of Muskegon economic development and planning director, said METC offers Consumers and the community potential redevelopment opportunities for the B.C. Cobb plant, which is the largest taxpayer in Muskegon County and a critical part of the city’s taxbase.
“It would be nice that we would have something ready to go on that site if Consumers decided to close it out,” Brubaker-Clarke said. “So, it is huge to have Consumers Energy involved at this point. I think we are going to see something happen.”
Also involved in port development in Muskegon is the new West Michigan Economic Partnership, which is Kent and Muskegon counties' collaboration under the Next Michigan Initiative. Muskegon’s involvement in the partnership – designed to market and provide state incentives to targeted industrial properties in the two counties – is providing the deep-water port capabilities for the initiative.
“We haven’t seen any specifics come out of the METC plan but I think their next step needs to be establishing a presence with an office in our community,” said Ed Garner, president of Muskegon Area First – the county’s economic development agency. “There are potential equipment manufacturers in the wind industry that can use the port along with agriculture and other heavy equipment. I think we will be seeing agricultural products shipped out of the port next.”
The long-term goal is to create manufacturing facilities on the east end of the lake that can take advantage of lake-based transportation of their products and raw materials, Garner said. There is more than one potential manufacturer contemplating operations in the zone the city of Muskegon has created for port operations, which has been expanded to include certain types of manufacturing, local economic developers said.
“On the government level, our focus is about creating jobs,” Sabo said. “We want to promote economic development and good use of our port facilities. METC is another step in the right direction.”
Facebook: Dave Alexander