Megasite Ford-CATL deal raises questions about national security, loss of prime farmland
Michigan locals are mounting resistance against Ford’s new battery plant partnered with a Chinese company.
The factory will be owned by Ford through a wholly-owned subsidiary without foreign investment; Chinese EV battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) will provide the battery technology, some equipment, and Chinese workers. The plant is expected to start operating in Marshall, a small township 100 miles west of Detroit, in 2026.
During a February press conference announcing the deal, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said the factory’s expected creation of 2,500 jobs will “build on Michigan’s economic momentum.”
Some locals disagree. They are concerned about the CATL’s communist backing, and the associated national security risk, loss of prime farmland, the lack of transparency in the process, and an oversize industrial park’s impact on a small town.
National Security Concerns
The Battle Creek Air National Guard Base is located about 15 miles from the intended battery park site, which is heavily marketed as a “megasite” by the Michigan state economic development agency. The base hosts a ground control station that supports U.S. missions of the MQ-9—an armed, remotely-piloted plane—providing intelligence to federal and state entities.
The Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center, a defense logistics center, is within 10 miles of the megasite.
Ford will initially use 950 acres of the 1,600-acre megasite, with an option to expand.
“I feel that the placement of this site is no accident; it is an effort by the CCP to gain access to our base. Our national security is at risk. Apparently, it’s OK with Ford, the local government, and the state government,” Rick Sadler, a Marshall resident who lives half a mile from the megasite, told The Epoch Times.
Experts previously told The Epoch Times that access to federal and state tax credits, potentially reaching $1 billion, was vital to the Ford-CATL deal. Even though CATL might not directly receive the incentives Ford would get, Ford could not afford to pay the Chinese company without the federal and state subsidies.
In addition, Ford’s introduction of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries in its entry-level models takes the Chinese-monopolized technology one step closer to global dominance in the EV battery market, according to a December report by Adamas Intelligence, a critical minerals market research firm.
The deal will give a significant additional boost to CATL, which rose to prominence with the help of $155 million in Chinese subsidies between 2015 and 2017, a time during which foreign providers had no access to the Chinese EV battery market.
On Feb. 20, at the first Marshall Township board meeting after the Ford-CATL deal announcement, a speaker said during public comment: “Why in the world would Marshall want to accept something—the Trojan horse that’s being put into their area—when other governors and other senators are turning it down?”
She referred to Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s decision last December to withdraw the Commonwealth’s bid as a possible site for the EV park. He called the plant a “Trojan horse” for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) global dominance agenda. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) supported Youngkin’s decision.
The public affairs office of Battle Creek Air National Guard Base told The Epoch Times the base couldn’t comment on the business practices of private companies. It didn’t disclose whether it was informed of the deal before the public announcement.
The base reports to Michigan’s governor. The Epoch Times has contacted the U.S. Department of Defense for comment.
On its official website’s “myths and facts” section, Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance (MAEDA) says the EV plant doesn’t involve any national security issues because there’s no technology transfer in the deal.
“When you see our farmland being bought up by China, when you see that we’re relying so heavily on a technology from China that has control of lithium deposits around the world, it just doesn’t seem wise to be doing this,” Rebecca Glotfelty, co-founder of local non-profit Seedkeepers, told The Epoch Times. “It’s not like we’re buying a toy from China; we are putting EV batteries in all of our transportation, which is critical to our security.”
Seedkeepers was founded as a response to the Ford-CATL plant. The organization is advocating a state park as an alternative plan for the site.
‘Pause to Consider What Will Be Lost’
Marshall, a town of about 3,000 people, prides itself on its prime farmland. The township’s website says it includes about 9,000 acres of farmland— “some of the best farmland in Calhoun County”—with corn, soybeans, and wheat as primary crops.
The acres designated for the future EV battery park are farmland. Ford has said it would place 245 acres at the site’s southern edge in a conservation easement, limiting the land use to protect its conservation values.
“Before we rush to embrace what some refer to as progress, first pause to consider what will be lost when land that has produced literally tons of corn and beans to feed a hungry nation is covered in concrete. It cannot be reclaimed,” said another speaker at the township board meeting on Feb. 20. “With the entrance of the Ford company, more farmland will inevitably be lost to housing and strip malls.”
MAEDA’s response is that the acres used for the EV battery park are a small fraction of the 10 million acres of farmland in the state. “We have seen firsthand that communities can increase economic opportunities while preserving and respecting our deep agricultural roots,” the organization says.
Jan. 16 was the first time the Marshall public knew there would be an EV battery plant operated by an unspecified company at the megasite.
Ten days later, at a special board meeting on Jan. 26, the Marshall Township board approved (pdf) the transfer of the first four pieces of land sold to MAEDA for the battery park to Marshall City for public utility access.
On Feb. 20, a week after Ford announced its partnership with CATL and the site selection in Marshall, the township held a public hearing (pdf) to discuss the land transfers. On the same day, the board approved the transfer of another four pieces of land.
It’s unclear how many acres the eight pieces of land totaled.
A few property owners are holding onto their land, although a chart on MAEDA’s website shows over half with options either exercised or pending.
Locals said that MAEDA was not forthcoming with information about the development plan for the megasite. Some said they felt pressured by MAEDA because its representatives told them that the state government was involved.
“This gives people the impression that they really don’t have the option to fight. Many of these people I’ve talked to have said, ‘I felt I had to sign. If the state wants your property, they’re going to get it,’” said Glotfelty.
Although not a resident currently, Glotfelty grew up at a farm in Marshall. She told The Epoch Times that her parents sold the farm to MAEDA in association with the Ford-CATL plant. Glotfelty leads a non-profit organization by profession. She co-founded Seedkeepers to lend her skills and experience to local residents.
Glotfelty said she was in the room when her mother signed the options agreement with MAEDA. After the signing, the MAEDA representative told them there would be a big plant with potentially 5,500 employees, something unprecedented for the area. The representative added that the plant would change the character of the community.
‘Lansing Wants Me to Come to You’
Joan Chapman, who owns a piece of land designated for the EV battery park, said she doesn’t want to sell her home to MAEDA. She purchased the home in 1994. A mini homestead with chickens, ducks, bees, and flower gardens, the home has been paid for, and the taxes are relatively low.
MAEDA approached Chapman three times: with a letter in the summer of 2021 and through personal visits by Richard Lindsey, a MAEDA board member, in September of 2022 and again in January.
Lindsay told Chapman and her husband, Fred, that he was reaching out to them “because you are the last ones, and Lansing wants me to come to you,” referring to the state government.
“Why don’t you just send them here?” Joan replied.
Fred said he was “skeptical” because he knew at least a few neighbors hadn’t signed the options agreement, either. The Epoch Times has contacted MAEDA for comment.
A Rushed Deal
To Glotfelty, the announcement of the deal before the public had a chance to voice their concerns “undermines our democracy.”
“It’s no democracy at all. They [local elected officials] already bought into what Ford wants,” Glotfelty said. She also questioned MAEDA’s land acquisition methods because, in her view, landowners had to sign the options agreements without adequate information.
“Everything is being rushed,” she added. “Now people are just rushing to accept this without taking into consideration all the impacts to this project.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it that they hurried and made this announcement for the sole purpose that our resistance movement was building up, and they wanted to squash it,” said Glotfelty, adding that the movement began right after Jan. 16, the first township board meeting at which the public heard about the deal. At the time, the plan for an EV battery park was disclosed but Ford was not named as the owner.
Do the Benefits Justify the Cost?
A spending bill including $630 million for the site development of the Ford battery park was presented to Whitmer on Mar. 7. Both Democrat-controlled chambers in the state legislature cleared the bill.
According to The Detroit News, the estimated Michigan state incentive for jobs created by the EV battery plant ranges from $136,000 to $680,000 per job. However, those jobs pay an average of $45,000 per year, lower than the annual median household of about $53,000 in Calhoun County.
Marshall Township Supervisor David Bosserd was the only one who voted against the property transfers to the city, a crucial step for the battery park site development. The 63-year-old farmer has lived in the local community all his life.
“My family has been here for almost 100 years,” he told The Detroit News. “We’re farmers, and that’s what we do. And this site could potentially put agriculture right out of our township completely.”
He said he understood that job creation is needed but asked, “Do we do it at the cost that it is?”
In response, Josh Hundt, executive vice president and chief projects officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), said his agency had “partnered with all aspects of local government and local economic development partners across the Marshall area, Calhoun County, and southwest Michigan.” In his view, the new EV battery plant is an across-the-board collaboration between government agencies to bring jobs and investment to the Marshall community.
Michigan State Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), whose constituents live on properties slated for the megasite, sees the issue differently. He voted “no” for the spending bill that allocated $630 million for the project.
On the state Senate floor on Feb. 28, he said his question about the local impact wasn’t answered. “I was told to reach out to the MEDC. Basically, the message from the majority is that we need to approve this bill now and let people hear about what’s in the deal later,” he said. “Decisions like these should not be made behind closed doors; they should be made in public. This appropriation and the process used are a disservice to Michigan taxpayers.”
“I want jobs and economic development for the Marshall community and for Michigan as a whole as well, but not at any and all costs,” he added.
The Epoch Times reached out to Ford for comment.