BIG RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — While state funding remains on hold for a $2.36 billion electric vehicle battery plant near Big Rapids, a group of Republicans are urging for the plan to be paused over concerns about Gotion’s apparent ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
At a news conference at the Michigan Capitol Tuesday morning, Sen. Jonathan Lindsey, R-Allen, Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Osseo, Rep. Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville, former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra and former ambassadors called for the state to start from scratch and vet the project again.
“The concerns merit further investigation,” Lindsey said. “We should be pumping the brakes on this project.”
Supporters, like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and The Right Place, have called the project a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to create 2,350 jobs and more than $2 billion in investment in the area. They’ve also highlighted the opportunity to build a talent pipeline with Ferris State University nearby, keeping young people in the area.
“I’d say more than once in a generation,” said Randy Thelen, the CEO of The Right Place, in an interview with News 8 last October. “There’s literally never been anything like this in northern Michigan of this scale and of this size. So it’s maybe once in every hundred years.”
“We think this is an opportunity to reset a Big Rapids 2.0 if you will,” Thelen added.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has backed the plan. In a statement last fall, the governor said, it “will shore up our status as a global hub of mobility and electrification.”
News 8 reached out to Whitmer on Tuesday asking if she still supports the project and has not heard back as of Tuesday evening.
Many residents in the Big Rapids-area don’t want the plant. There were protests earlier this month over fears about the environmental impact and Gotion’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
“If you’re being serious about national security, this is far from a partisan perspective,” Fink said.
“What I see is a real threat from the Chinese Communist Party,” Meerman added.
Later Tuesday afternoon, another group of state Senate Republicans called on Michigan’s congressional delegation to investigate the company’s relationship with the CCP, fearing a risk to national security.
“When we ask the questions, we’re being told that we’re conspiracy theorists and that we’re play acting at national security,” Fink said.
Chuck Thelen, Gotion’s vice president of North America manufacturing, said during a virtual town hall earlier this month that the allegations “have no basis in fact whatsoever,” insisting the CCP has no influence on North American operations.
“Despite what any current politician might say, there is no communist plot within Gotion to make Big Rapids a center to spread communism,” Thelen said.
Republicans say the state didn’t do enough due diligence when reviewing the project.
“If we can’t take the time to vet the project, think through these questions and ensure we’re not making Michigan taxpayers complicit with activities that Michigan taxpayers do not want to be complicit in, then how can we consider ourselves serious policymakers?” Fink asked.
Hoekstra urged the state to invest in American companies instead.
“Rather than funneling $4 billion to take an emerging industry and strengthen China’s position in that industry, take the $4 billion and invest in our best and brightest companies right here in Michigan and the United States to get them moving,” he said.
“They are taking $400 from every single individual in the state of Michigan and they are proposing that they transfer those resources over to the Chinese communist party,” he added.
The former congressman then called for an end to the project entirely.
“It’s not a great investment for the state of Michigan and it’s not very patriotic,” Hoekstra said. “I am confident that after they take a look at the changes and what has happened in the geopolitical atmosphere, the answer will be, not now, not ever, taking Michigan taxpayer dollars and sending them to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Democrats haven’t signed off on the plan either. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee gave money to other battery plant projects but not Gotion’s.
Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, and the chair of the committee, told reporters that members need more questions answered before approving $175 million in state incentives.
But some Republican’s minds are made up.
“I think that should be entirely off the table,” Lindsey said. “I think we should go back to the drawing board and really build out some tools to do a deep dive, evaluation of this partnership and project.”