Milford Township trustees approved a tax abatement for a battery recycling company whose clients include General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and other major corporations.
Battery Solutions, LLC, plans to move its Howell headquarters and Brighton processing plant into a 95,000-square-foot building that will be constructed on Holtz Drive, just north of Pontiac Trail and east of Old Plank Road.
Brighton-area businessmen Michael and Tim Corrigan formed Holtz Drive, LLC, to buy the 14-acre site and construct the building to suit Battery Solutions’ needs. Holtz Drive, LLC, will own the building and lease it back to Battery Solutions.
The abatement is for one year of construction and nine years of 50-percent tax relief. It’s contingent on the recycling firm agreeing to the terms of a contract with the township.
Those terms will include a prohibition against dismantling mercury-, lead- and cadmium-containing batteries in the facility, although the company will be allowed to store them onsite before sending them to a third party for processing. Battery Solutions also must agree to hold the township harmless in the event the municipality is sued over a problem the company caused.
Trustees want to build in financial penalties that would go into effect if the company left Milford Township within two years after the abatement ends. Jennifer Elowsky, township attorney, is researching that possibility.
“I want to welcome you, but I don’t want to see your tail going out in 12 years,” said Cynthia Dagenhardt, township treasurer.
She asked Thomas Bjarnemark, president and CEO, for an assurance that Battery Solutions will remain in the township after the abatement ends.
Bjarnemark said consolidating the company’s two facilities in Milford Township would save money. He also pointed out that moving again in 12 years would be “highly disruptive.” The 14-acre site will give Battery Solutions room to grow.
“Hopefully, in 12 years, we’ll be an even bigger company than we are today,” he said. “Our most important customer is General Motors — they have a heavy presence in Milford Township — and it is looking favorably that we are establishing so close. That customer relationship is important.”
Investing in employees
Bjarnemark called the company’s business model, “asset light,” in explaining why it prefers leasing over building ownership.
“We prefer to invest our capital into technology and production equipment rather than brick and mortar. If we own the building, that ties up a lot of capital,” he said.
The company, founded in 1992, processes more than 50 million pounds of batteries annually. Steel extracted from the batteries is sold to steel mills. Manganese becomes a component in fertilizers. Paper and plastic from the battery’s label, along with copper wiring, also are recycled.
Battery Solutions works with such clients as Comcast, Henry Ford Health Systems and Waste Management, recycling “post-consumer” batteries used in cellphones, laptop computers and flashlights. It recycles batteries used for backup power from Alpha Technologies, AT&T, Verizon, Ford, Toyota and General Motors. It also handles car batteries from General Motors, Toyota and Ford.
“With GM, we’re getting close to 100 percent of their vehicle batteries and we’ve been working with them for 18 years,” Bjarnemark said.
The company also has partnered with the University of Michigan on five battery technology research projects.
Bjarnemark said battery recycling is mostly a manual process that is labor intensive and that the company emphasizes employee training and development.
“When we hire a person into our battery sorting operation, they have to go through a six-week program we call battery school, where we teach them to distinguish all the different types of batteries,” he said.
Battery Solutions currently employs 78 workers and plans to add an estimated 38 jobs by 2022.
Two trustees, Randal Busick and William Mazzara, voted against the abatement.
“I don’t see the benefits for the residents of Milford to do this,” Mazzara said. “Granted, we’re bringing in a building and it’s a nice building, but I don’t see Milford gaining anything except a technology that’s not new.”