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Detroit — Pegged as the largest investment in the city in the last 20 years by an auto supplier, Flex-N-Gate Corp. broke ground Monday on a $95 million manufacturing facility that could employ 400 to 700 people by mid-2018.

Excavation already has started on the 350,000 square-foot facility that will occupy around 30 acres of unused land in Detroit’s I-94 Industrial Park, not far from the Coleman A. Young International Airport in the 7000 block of Georgia between Mount Elliot and Van Dyke.

“This is the kind of development that we’ve been working for,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Detroit Councilman Scott Benson added: “We have not seen this type of development and movement in decades. This is huge.”

Flex-N-Gate builds vehicle front-end parts such as headlamps, bumpers and fascias for automotive manufacturers. The company was awarded a long-term contract by Ford Motor Co. to manufacture parts for an unnamed vehicle, which led to the investment in Detroit.

Owner Shahid Khan would not say which Ford vehicle his company will be working on. But Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, said Monday that Ford was a driving force for Flex-N-Gate to build in Detroit when it became clear Khan would have to expand to supply the Dearborn-based automaker with the parts.

“I had spoken to (Ford), and their wish was we really try hard to be in the city of Detroit,” Khan said. “When the customer gives you a sense of direction that that’s what they’d like, that’s what you want to look like.”

Ford in a statement Monday said, “We are in full support of this project and are happy they chose the City of Detroit for their newest location.”

The auto supplier has committed to hiring 51 percent of the construction workers from within the city. Thirty percent of the construction contracts for the site will go to Detroit companies. Although Khan and Duggan did not say if a percentage of the manufacturing jobs are reserved for city residents, there will be an “emphasis” on hiring in the city.

“The key things we’re looking for is people in the area who are going to show up for work, be drug- and alcohol-free, and be willing to learn, and we’re going to have great jobs for them,” Khan said.

Duggan said Monday the city is partnering with Focus: HOPE and the state through the Detroit at Work program to train city residents for the manufacturing positions Khan will hire for next year.

As an incentive, Flex-N-Gate received a $5.9 million property tax abatement from the city and a $2.6 million federal grant to fund road improvements on the south side of the site. Last year, the Michigan Strategic Fund also approved a $3.5 million grant for the project.

Marvis Cofield, a community leader who worked with the city and company hammering out logistics for the plant, said both entities have worked closely with the surrounding neighborhood to develop the site plan, which includes keeping semi-truck traffic away from residences.

He called the new plant a “gateway for employment.”

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

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