SHIAWASSEE ECONOMIC Development Partnership (SEDP) President and CEO Justin Horvath (standing) can be seen addressing the Durand City Council on Monday, Aug. 7. Seated to his right is SEDP Board Chair Bryan Marks.

(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)

 

   The Durand City Council voted on Monday, Aug. 7 to withdraw from the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership (SEDP). The city was a charter member of the SEDP, which was formed in 2002 and takes a lead role in the county in the recruitment of new businesses, while also working with existing business owners to grow their operations.

   The decision to cut ties with the SEDP stems from a meeting held on Monday, July 17 at Durand Union Station. Present at the meeting were representatives from the city of Durand, Vernon Township and the SEDP, as well as representatives from a business that is looking at the area’s “mega site” as the potential location for a proposed manufacturing facility. The area’s mega site, as designated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, includes land between Lansing Road and I-69, and on both sides of Durand Road south of the expressway.

   The Durand area site is one of seven semifinalists to receive this proposed project, which, according to council person, Brian Boggs would be a Factorial Energy battery production facility covering approximately 300 acres. The two proposed locations for the project are north of Lansing Road across from Durand Middle School and along Durand Road north of Graff Chevrolet.

   The issue, primarily, were the Non Disclosure Agreements SEDP President and CEO Justin Horvath and SEDP Board Chair Bryan Marks signed with the prospective business prior to the July 17 meeting. From the SEDP’s point of view, the NDAs were a necessary move made by two unelected business consultants who would not have a vote in whether or not the project came to the area, made in the best interests of the city and the township. To the council, the move diminished the trust built between the city and the SEDP over the past 21 years and made the council members question who it was the SEDP was working for.

   Horvath and Marks were in attendance for the council meeting on Aug. 7 and each made an effort to assuage the council’s concerns. All that would be in vain, however, as the council ultimately voted unanimously to end the city’s relationship with the SEDP, a move that saves the city $7,500 this year and $10,000 per year moving forward.

   The decision to leave the SEDP (or not) was on the evening’s agenda, but much of the discussion concerning the matter happened earlier in the meeting, during the public comment section. At that time, Marks and Horvath both expressed their surprise that the council would consider pulling out of the SEDP and offered to answer any questions the council had of them. Dr. Boggs jumped at the opportunity, spending the next several minutes cross examining the SEDP representatives on their actions.

   Dr. Boggs shared during this examination the name of the business in question and the type of technology it involves. He also pressed the SEDP representatives to divulge the names of the business representatives who were in the room on July 17, to no avail. He questioned when the SEDP signed the NDAs, he shared his concerns that Factorial Energy allegedly has ties to China and he expressed his view that an electric vehicle battery factory would not be popular among local residents.

   Mayor Jeff Brands and council persons Sara Pettit and Patrick O’Connor also took turns questioning the SEDP representatives, and each explained why their trust of the SEDP had been diminished by this experience. Mayor Brands was also displeased that the city and township officials were asked to leave the meeting on July 17 so that the developers and the SEDP could talk privately.

   “It really irked me when I had to leave the meeting [on July 17],” explained Mayor Brands. “It doesn’t matter what kind of agreement you made with the MEDC. It doesn’t mean jack. Us sitting behind this desk and those sitting behind the desk at the township make the final decision and we got kicked out of a meeting in our own building. That was not cool, besides not being introduced, not knowing who the guy was that was talking. That’s what pissed me off. I don’t have an issue at all with the township; it’s with you guys.”

   Try as they might, Horvath and Marks could not change the minds of the council members. Following the council’s vote to terminate the city’s agreement with the SEDP, Horvath addressed the council one final time.

   “The city was a charter member of the SEDP 21 years ago,” shared Horvath. “We’ve done a lot of work here in the city. Obviously that relationship has failed. It’s a failure of communication, I think, in large part. I’ll take responsibility for that. All that being said, we’re still here as an advocate for economic development in this county. Even if you’re not a paying member, we still want to find ways to work with the city. If there are businesses that need help here, we’re going to do it. I do think this decision sends a message, county-wide and to the state. It very well may kill the potential for development. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but we’re not giving up. We’re still here to help as we can.”

   Dr. Boggs assured the residents in attendance that the city would be fine without the SEDP.

   “The city pulling out of the SEDP will not impact whether or not development will happen out there,” explained Dr. Boggs. “If anything, this puts the city manager in a much more engaged seat. Right now, information goes from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to Justin [Horvath] and then to the city of Durand and it becomes like a game of telephone. So, the city manager engaging in it directly will be better for the city.”

City of Durand Severs Ties with SEDP was last modified: August 15th, 2023 by Karen Elford