KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A proposed agreement between the city of Kalamazoo and a Fortune 500 company with a local plant did not get the city commission’s support at its Monday night meeting.

Kalamazoo city leaders discussed a new chapter in its 155-year relationship with Graphic Packaging International in the form of a proposed community benefits agreement, or CBA.

City commissioners voted six months ago to extend a tax exemption for the N. Pitcher Street industrial facility for the company from five years to one year and create a CBA with them.

The proposal would have aimed for “complete neighborhoods, economic vitality, shared prosperity, and safe community” with Graphic Packaging International.

Under the agreement, the Georgia-based company would have had to:

  • Connect and engage with the community, especially the northside and eastside neighborhoods.
  • Conduct job fairs with job requirements under a CBA steering committee.
  • Help improve a multi-use site for neighborhood businesses and youth activities.
  • Fund a community grant fund for engaging, inclusive economic empowerment programs.

The majority of public comments were against the proposed agreement, citing an ongoing Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy air quality study.

While the CBA says Graphic Packaging “has undertaken significant efforts to mitigate the potential for odors from its facility,” some believe the agreement does not address any air quality or environmental concerns stemming from complaints filed with EGLE and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Many public comments against the agreement also called on the company to pay for relocation because of those issues.

Commissioners took note of such concerns, and the city commission let the CBA die with a lack of motion. Commissioners wanted to see more health benefits for neighborhoods.

“(We’re) waiting for that report and understanding what’s happening so we can unravel this in a way that is taking care of our people in the city and also creating that economic development at the same time in a safe way,” Kalamazoo City Commissioner Esteven Juarez said. “That being said, I feel like it’s almost like we’re prematurely trying to establish an agreement without understanding the real effect of what’s been taking place.”

Graphic Packaging says it agreed to what it could do in eight months, which would have been the term.

“The City Commission supported the concept of forming a CBA in December when it voted unanimously for the city to enter into discussions with us. A lot of hard work and thoughtful discussion went into creating the agreement that the CBA steering committee and Graphic Packaging proposed (Monday night). We appreciate the thoughtful suggestions and ideas that were discussed at Monday’s meeting. We will regroup and assess this decision and decide what our next steps will be.”

Graphic Packaging

The tax abatement for Graphic Packaging will be up for renewal at the end of the year. Commissioners have asked the city manager to come back with a new CBA in six months to tie to that abatement. 

Vice Mayor Don Cooney said the agreement should include eliminating the health effects of the air quality in that area.

“We don’t know the health effects, but we do know the life expectancy is 14 years less in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the factory,” he said.

— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma and Nick Ponton contributed to this report.