Whirlpool’s SJ Tech Center Project Heads Down Alternate Path

In the world of economic development there are inevitably a lot of hoops to jump through, hurdles to be cleared, change orders to be dealt with, reformulated plans to take under advisement, and any of a host of other ever-evolving blueprints on the road to success. For Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland it was sort of a case of “back to the drawing board” this week when ongoing discussions regarding the proposed $35-million expansion and renovation of Whirlpool Corporation’s St. Joseph Technology Center, headed down an alternate path.

As head of the region’s largest economic development agency, Cleveland has been shepherding the ambitious project through the myriad regulatory hoops and the volumes of paperwork necessary for the application and approval of a Community Rehabilitation District that has been greenlighted by the City of St. Joseph but still needs approval from the State of Michigan, through its Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Cleveland says as they’ve continued to strategize the project there were a few heart palpitations when it was suggested that a different approach be considered, which has triggered another round of paperwork.  He says that the back and forth conversations between Whirlpool, the City of St. Joseph, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Treasury have been great conversations, however in an attempt to deliver the best deal for everyone over the long term, the state recommended Thursday that Whirlpool and Cornerstone change the request from the commercial application they had been seeking to a more standard industrial tax abatement. What, if any, financial ramifications that might have on the ultimate project is yet to be identified.

Cleveland tells me he will be at the St. Joseph City Commission meeting on Monday night to update city officials on what the request means as well as what needs to happen next in order for the project to proceed. Cleveland says the issue revolves largely around the usage of the property and with Whirlpool’s long term success at the SJ Tech Center based on engineering and research & development work, the state looked at the alternative of an industrial approach. Michigan views R&D activities as a process that supports manufacturing activity, so Cleveland’s Cornerstone team is taking a proactive approach to go back to the city and consider an industrial abatement as the most appropriate classification.

The City of St. Joseph last visited the issue a month ago when they granted their blessing on the project. You can read the details of that approval and what it would mean using that approach by clicking this link for the previous story on Moody on the Market:

http://www.moodyonthemarket.com/city-of-st-joe-takes-up-another-major-step-in-the-whirlpool-tech-center-plan/

While the news this week was not expected by much of anyone on the local scene, and likely created more than a few nervous moments, Cornerstone’s Cleveland remains confident that it is a solid plan and that they will ultimately succeed and earn approval from the state, “But,” he says, “We have to change it to industrial, and are just reworking the plan, but it will get accomplished.” He adds, “We want to make sure this is done correctly.” Stay tuned.

Even though the alternative approach will take more time, Rob Cleveland characterizes the process to this point as “a good experience for all of us. We’ve gone through the commercial exemption process, and we will be ready the next time we need to do another one.”