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A call for more manufacturing sites in Kalamazoo

Side view of large rollers in action at the GPI plant in Kalamazoo. There are linty tubes and wires in the foreground.
Sehvilla Mann
Machinery at the Graphic Packaging International plant in Kalamazoo in 2016.

The Kalamazoo area faces headwinds if it hopes to grow and thrive as an industrial center. That’s according to the new director of economic development agency Southwest Michigan First.

Jonas Peterson says industrial developers who look near Kalamazoo will find few places to build, and may also have trouble finding skilled workers. Peterson briefed Kalamazoo County officials earlier this month.

“We need more sites for industrial development so we can provide that easy pathway for companies to select this region and advance in terms of job creation,” Peterson said.

The need for space is so acute, the Portage City Council is weighing a tax break for an industrial plant that’s only theoretical at this point. If built, the facility would be located off Milham Avenue. It’s unusual for the city to grant a tax break for a site without a commitment from a would-be occupant. But Council Member Terry Urban said it may be necessary.

“This is weird, it is something new to wrap our heads around but it does make sense to me. The need for this exists,” Urban said.

A similar tax break is being tried at a parcel near Battle Creek.

County commissioners will watch a presentation Tuesday on efforts to beef up vocational training in the Kalamazoo area.