Automotive parts manufacturer Flex-N-Gate Corp. ceremoniously broke ground April 24 on a $95 million plant on Detroit's east side that Mayor Mike Duggan touted as the largest auto supplier investment in the city in more than two decades.
The 600,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is being built on 30 acres of vacant land northeast of downtown Detroit. It is expected to open in the first quarter of next year. Production is expected to begin in second quarter of 2018.
"This is the kind of development that we've been working for, the kind of development Detroit has not been able to compete for in recent years," Duggan said. "But we're starting to compete and win right now."
Flex-N-Gate owner Shahid Khan said the Urbana, Ill.-based auto parts supplier chose the site after he was personally urged by Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford Jr. to build a plant in Detroit.
"Nothing starts without a customer and here Ford is really the great impetus in this development in really a critical part of America that really needs this investment," said Khan, a Pakistani-American billionaire and owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
Flex-N-Gate plans to hire at least 400 workers. At full capacity, up to 750 total jobs could be added, the city said in an April 24 news release.
"This is not downtown, this is not in Midtown, this is on the northeast side of Detroit [and] we haven't seen this kind of development in generations," said Councilman Scott Benson, whose 3rd District includes the I-94 Industrial Park where the Flex-N-Gate plant is being built.
Flex-N-Gate has other manufacturing facilities in the Detroit suburbs of Royal Oak and Warren.
Khan said Bill Ford was a "key driver" in his decision to build a new plant in the city, urging him to "really try hard to be in the city of Detroit."
"When the customer gives you a sense of direction of that's what you'd like, that's what you want to look at," Khan said. "And, frankly, I'm hoping after this we'll have other customers, other American and foreign customers who will want to have parts built in the city of Detroit."
Flex-N-Gate builds bumpers, front end modules, headlamps and other molded parts. Khan wouldn't say which specific parts will be built at the Detroit plant or what kinds of molding it may have at the site.
The company is getting a Renaissance Zone tax break of $5.9 million over 10 years on its corporate income tax, city property tax and utility users tax. Flex-N-Gate also was granted an abatement of half of debt millage taxes, according to Duggan's office. Last May, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved a $3.5 million brownfield grant to help fund environmental pollution remediation at the site.
Last year, Detroit sold the vacant land to Flex-N-Gate for $1.3 million. The land was previously residential, but has been vacant for years.
"In our internal bureaucracy, we're starting to relearn how to handle a project of this magnitude," Duggan said.