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There's a divide between Michiganders over whether foreign investment is a good thing

Marjorie Steele is part of a grassroots group fighting a planned multi-billion-dollar battery plant near Big Rapids
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
Marjorie Steele is part of a grassroots group fighting a planned multi-billion-dollar battery plant near Big Rapids

A big part of Michigan’s manufacturing economy involves foreign investment.

But some Michiganders are pushing back against which foreign companies are getting the chance to break ground in their communities.

And they’d like a president who’d do the same.

Last October, hundreds of people gathered at a horse farm near Big Rapids to hear Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

But, in what may have been foreshadowing of Ramaswamy’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, not many people were holding his campaign signs.

There were many more signs attacking plans by a Chinese company to build a $2.4 billion battery manufacturing plant in their rural west Michigan community.

On that, Ramaswamy struck a chord with the crowd.

“Over my dead body, will that come here to the United States of America…..and it’s not going to happen,” said Ramaswamy, “We will not let our children become a bunch of Chinese serfs.”

Big Rapids is not alone. People in other parts of Michigan have raised concerns about other foreign businesses, with an emphasis on those from China.

Opposition to foreign investment has fallen into several camps; those specifically opposed to Chinese firms, others upset by government incentives for green companies and concern about potential environment impacts.

The last is Marjorie Steele’s main concern.

We’re sitting at the kitchen table in the home her parents built a half century ago, about five miles from the planned Chinese battery plant.

When it comes to presidential leadership, Steele would like to see what she describes as a “radical” departure from current government policies, specifically a reduced emphasis on foreign investment.

She points the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as an example of where federal government efforts in global trade have had a negative effect.

“Things haven’t gotten better since then,” said Steele, “Global trade has not increased the quality of life for the average citizen. It has increased the wealth of a very few.”

Mark Heusel is a consultant who works with companies in east Asia looking to invest and build in the U.S.

As one might expect, Heusel believes foreign investment is a good thing and vitally important to Michigan’s economy. Though he concedes it has become more complicated in the past decade.

“Even when things became more difficult for China, Michigan has still been able to step up and see that this is a reasonable play, and make sense for the business community,” said Heusel.

Heusel says the main concern for those involved in foreign business investment is the need for consistency of federal policy. He says that’s where presidential leadership is needed.

“When you go to think about an investment that’s worth potentially billions of dollars that you’re going to be able to realize that through long stay and so, having consistency and certainty is really very important to our clients,” said Huesel.

Meanwhile, people in Big Rapids are not waiting for presidential leadership.

Opposition to the Chinese battery plant has only grown in the past year.

Orman Hook describes himself as one of the co-architects of the local effort fighting the battery plant.

“Business has to be seen as national security,” said Hook back at that rally last October, “Deal with your friends, but not your enemies.”

In November, in what may be a clear signal to presidential candidates, Green Charter township voters recalled all members of the township board who voted to support the Chinese battery plant development plans.

Copyright 2024 Michigan Public. To see more, visit Michigan Public.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005.
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