Whirlpool to update technical center, build apartments in west Michigan

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

In conjunction with the redevelopment of a technical center, Whirlpool Corp. is supporting a new multifamily development in Benton Harbor it hopes will help to keep and attract talent in its hometown.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. on Tuesday approved incentives for a more than $80 million investment in west Michigan's Berrien County. In collaboration with Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment LLC, Whirlpool is backing the construction of the Harbor Shores Apartments in Benton Harbor and a two-story office and research facility in St. Joseph.

A conceptual rendering of the Harbor Shores Apartments that will include 80 new units in Benton Harbor.

"Good people and great companies need great communities," said Jeff Noel, Whirlpool's vice president of corporate communications and who has served as the MEDC's interim CEO since March. "We hope this will help us to attract and retain the talent to be in a dynamic and competitive industry in the world."

The MEDC also approved support for an American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. investment in southwest Michigan's Three Rivers and an expansion by Dearborn-based Hollingsworth Logistics Group LLC in Brownstown Township.

For the Whirlpool project, Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment will receive a Michigan Community Revitalization Program grant of $750,000, citing the need due to rising construction material costs and that the project is not expected to generate a positive return.

"It is not being done in a way in which you are making a financial return in the near term," Noel said. "That is not the intent. The intent is to develop a parcel of land in an area that requires extra cost. The real metric is not the financial return in the near term. it's really about continuing the redevelopment in the city of Benton Harbor."

The Berrien County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority also requested approval of a brownfield work plan for the St. Joseph site, including more than $1.9 million in state tax captures over 16 years to address $4.3 million in demolition, infrastructure improvements and other work to ready the property. The project is receiving local tax captures of $2.4 million too.

"In order to be a championship economy, we have to really create a holistic people-first approach to economic development," said Quentin Messer Jr., the MEDC's new CEO. The Whirlpool project shows "how our business investment and community vitality offers can go hand-in-hand to support this global company's continued growth in the state while the company itself continues to reinvest in its workforce and surrounding community."

Whirlpool Corp. will redevelop its existing technical center in St. Joseph.

Whirlpool will invest more than $60 million to reconstruct the Global Laundry and Dishwasher Technical Center in St. Joseph for office space and testing of pre-manufactured dishwashers and laundry appliances. The project includes the demolition of a four-story building, construction of a 153,000-square-foot facility and renovation of 20,000 square feet of the nearly remaining 59,000 square feet of space. The updates will retain 400 jobs in engineering, research and development and administrative support that average $140,000 in annual pay.

The $20.9 million Harbor Shores Apartments takes over property vacant for 30 years. The building will include 80 one- and two-bedroom apartments totaling 89,654 square feet of construction when it opens in the late fall of next year. The development won't be exclusive to Whirlpool employees, though walking and biking trails will connect it to the renovated technical center and global and North American headquarters.

The Harbor Shore Apartments will have easy access getting to Whirpool Corp.'s technical center in St. Joseph and global and North American headquarters in Benton Harbor.

In the past, Whirlpool has provided support to public, affordable and other housing projects in the community. Whirlpool has provided technical and funding assistance for 450 houses.

Monthly rents at the new apartments will range from $1,120 to $1,682, attainable for households earning between 80% and 120% of Berrien County's area median income, according to an MEDC briefing memo. Improvements to Riverview Drive will be made, and sidewalk will be added. And the apartments, of course, will be outfitted with Whirlpool appliances.

"We heard from our young professionals they would like to see more interesting types of housing in the city of Benton Harbor and be a part of the resurgence of the city," Noel said. "(The apartments will have) sightlines that go right down the harbor to Lake Michigan. It'll be a very attractive place for folks to live."

American Axle

American Axle also received support for $40.6 million in new machinery and equipment at its largest Michigan facility in Three Rivers, which will create 100 jobs by 2025. The Detroit-based auto supplier won an eight-year contract producing advanced front and rear drive axle assembly systems for two pickup trucks in Missouri. General Motors Co. has a truck plant in Wentzville, Missouri.

The Three Rivers plant will make 130,000 front drive axles and 174,000 rear drive axles per year. The programs require new drivelines at the facility employing 1,000 workers making axles for heavy-duty trucks and disconnecting all-wheel-drive systems.

Three Rivers requested up to a $2 million Community Development Block Grant, a program of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to support economic development. American Axle also received a five-year full exemption up to $468,888 of the State Essential Services Assessment, a requirement of manufacturers that do not pay personal property tax on eligible manufacturing personal property.

Without the support, the manufacturing programs would have gone to its Guanajuato, Mexico, facility, where it has space and labor costs are cheaper. The Michigan investment also will support the company's efforts in creating an axle manufacturing center of excellence in the state.

Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth Logistics Group is a third-party logistics supply chain firm that is expanding its operations with a 500,000-square-foot facility in Brownstown Township resulting from new business. The more than $17 million investment will create up to 250 new jobs that pay on average $22.50 per hour plus benefits. Positions include packers, team leaders, supervisors and managers.

The company will receive a $1.5 million Michigan Business Development Program grant so the project can compete with existing facilities in Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. Hollingsworth employs more than 550 people in Michigan and 3,500 nationally with 75% of its workforce identifying as minority or immigrants.

The American Axle and Hollingsworth projects, the MEDC's Messer said, demonstrate "Michigan's legendary manufacturing and automotive and mobility leadership continues to be stronger than ever."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble