A Small Michigan Town Faces An Economic Contest Against Xi Jinping’s China. Can It Win?

A Small Michigan Town Faces An Economic Contest Against Xi Jinping’s China. Can It Win?
A Small Michigan Town Faces An Economic Contest Against Xi Jinping’s China. Can It Win?

On paper, this could be many people’s dreams come true.

A multinational corporation wants to build a $2.4 billion EV Battery plant on 270 acres of land in Green Charter Township, Michigan. It promises to create over two thousand jobs. It could be the key to economic prosperity for this rural area, roughly an hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids.

Potentially Life-Changing Opportunities

Such an immense investment would open tremendous new funding sources for local government initiatives like schools, roads and public facilities. The new jobs would increase demand for the construction of housing, roads, schools, churches and shopping centers, creating more jobs in turn.

However, most people who live in Green Township don’t want this one. They recalled the majority of their township board to block the plant’s construction.

The company that wants to build the plant is called Gotion. According to Crain’s—a news agency deeply connected to the auto industry, “Gotion Inc. is a subsidiary of China-based Gotion High-Tech Co. Ltd.”

Gotion’s situation is not unlike the ongoing controversy over the social media company TikTok. The two organizations have no official connection, except that both are Chinese. Companies in China do not exist without involvement from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Increasing numbers of Americans believe that allowing Chinese companies into the United States threatens individual privacy and national sovereignty.

Enthusiastic Official Support

When Gotion’s proposal became public information, Michigan politicians, Democrats and Republicans, supported it eagerly. An October 5, 2022, press release from the Governor’s office captures the enthusiasm.

“‘Gotion’s $2.36 billion investment creating 2,350 good-paying jobs…is the biggest ever economic development project in Northern Michigan and will shore up our status as the global hub of mobility and electrification,’ said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. ‘I am proud that Republicans and Democrats…empowered Michigan to compete for every project and every job. Together, we will…become the preeminent destination for electric vehicle and mobility companies. We will work with anyone and compete with everyone to keep bringing supply chains of batteries, chips, and electric vehicles home to Michigan.’”

To stave off competition from other states, Michigan offered Gotion an economic package that included $715 million in grants and substantial tax reductions. This facility also fits nicely into the Biden Administration’s plans to electrify the nation’s automobiles.

Academic Support, As Well

In addition to the factory, Gotion plans to construct a new administration building in nearby Big Rapids, the home of Ferris State University. The school’s president, Bill Pink, sees the project in terms of opportunities. A local website, Bridge Michigan, presented Dr. Pink’s reflections.

“[T]he new factory could fit with his mission to keep Ferris State’s curriculum relevant for high-tech jobs to meet ‘industry demand that is coming.’

“Pink said the battery component factory will bring a chance to boost innovation in the region, too, fueling perhaps more business development or educational partnerships for students at Ferris.”

Growing Local Opposition

In light of such support, the Township Board approved the plan. Then, the Township’s citizens started to weigh in. Their response was considerably more critical.

The Chinese connection troubles local residents. The blowback was so fierce that the locals recalled most members of the Township Board, replacing them with Gotion opponents.

Some residents’ concerns had nothing to do with China. As with most such projects, heavy construction would adversely affect the quality of life in the rural community. Increased traffic would cause congestion. A ballooning population causes issues for local schools and other public facilities.

However, much of the concern is based upon a distrust of China. This concern intensifies when coupled with the apparent willingness of federal and state officials to satisfy China by abandoning local interests.

Ridiculing “Conspiracy Theories”

By their nature, such concerns take on conspiratorial overtones. An October 2023 New York Times article used then-Township Supervisor and Gotion project supporter Jim Chapman as a source.

“‘[R]esidents have confronted Mr. Chapman with a host of conspiracy theories including that the plant is a ‘Trojan horse’ and that it will be used to spy on Americans. Some in town believe that the plant will employ cheap Chinese labor, instead of local workers, and erect cooling towers to conceal ballistic missiles.

 “What are they going to spy on us for in Big Rapids? Are they going to steal Carlleen Rose’s fudge recipe?’ Mr. Chapman asked, referring to the owner of a popular confectionery in Big Rapids.”

Today, Mr. Chapman may regret his dismissiveness. One month after the Times article was published, the voters recalled him and four other Township board members. The newly elected board is firmly opposed to the Gotion deal.

Local Resistance Leads to Legal Actions

In December, the newly elected board revoked Gotion’s permit to build a water supply line from Big Rapids to the proposed plant site. This move is crucial since at least part of Gotion’s attraction to Michigan involves water supply. Fresh water is an abundant resource in “The Great Lakes State.” The Green Township plant would use 715,000 gallons daily.

On March 15, Gotion filed a complaint with the federal court. The Detroit Free Press quoted from the complaint.

“To prevent the Township’s sudden recalcitrance from unraveling an endeavor already years and millions of dollars in the making, this Court should order the Township to comply with its obligations under the parties’ agreement by, among other things, reinstating the resolution to approve the connection of the City’s water systems to Gotion’s project.”

A Pattern of Increasing Reluctance

Until recently, the U.S. was eager to make deals with China. Many products designed here are produced in Chinese factories due to China’s cheap labor and lax environmental regulations. This makes it far less expensive to manufacture products in China and then import them into the United States. The Chinese enjoyed economic development. The American consumer could purchase products more cheaply. It seemed like a “win-win” for all concerned.

Of course, few have looked for hidden costs connected to doing business in China. American companies shipped industrial tools and “know-how” to China. In the process, Chinese companies—and, therefore, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—could copy the tools and products, often ignoring U.S. intellectual property laws.

However, China is increasingly interested in doing business in the United States. That raises serious questions. Why would Chinese companies want to pay far higher wages and comply with stringent regulations to build factories here? Some might argue that this move gives the Chinese access to American innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as superior engineers. However, the Chinese have no problem hiring American experts as consultants. Additionally, their access to America’s best schools and universities is well-known.

Many suspect that the biggest reason is to encourage American dependence on China. A vulnerable United States would be unlikely to thwart Chinese international designs. One fact giving this theory credibility is that, according to the financial site Investopedia, the United States already owes China $859.4 billion.

“Would the Real Xi Jinping Please Stand Up?”

Much American concern focuses on the personality of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping. A March 2024 article in Business Insider quoted Xi’s conciliatory side.

“Whether it is traditional fields such as economy, trade and agriculture, or emerging fields such as climate change and artificial intelligence, China and the United States should help boost each other’s development.”

However, the same article noted that Xi struck a very different tone “only weeks ago.”

“Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development.”

Which one is the authentic Xi? Is he an entrepreneurial leader eager to make deals that will improve the lives of his people, or is he a Communist autocrat willing to do anything to advance his nation’s power?

The Battle Ahead

The debate shows that a factory is not just a collection of buildings and machines. It must have a link with the surrounding people and its history. The artificial placement of the Chinese plant, with links to the Communist Chinese Party, rightly causes concern among the local population, which will have to live with the company. The locals should have a say in what happens around them.

As with any legal situation, this one is fraught with uncertainty. The Green Township board faces an uphill battle. They face reactions from other local officials, the State of Michigan, Federal Government policymakers and multinational corporations. Unless the locals submit, they are in for years of legal turmoil and massive expense. However, Davids do occasionally defeat Goliaths.

Photo Credit: © Christine – stock.adobe.com