WATERVLIET — A four-year, $31 million project to double the size of Lane Automotive has come to an end.
Cindy LaGrow, with LaGrow Consulting, gave the final report this week about the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that was given to Watervliet Township for the project. Michigan can’t grant money directly to companies, but townships can.
“When the project started in 2014, the building was about 200,000 square feet. They built on 240,000 square feet,” LaGrow said. “Mainly bringing in some robotics, conveyer systems and other new systems in order to make sure all their orders were met.”
The final CDBG amount from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. was about $1.7 million.
“The grant was originally $1.9 million, but the grant agreement was based on a specific number of jobs,” LaGrow said. “They started with 218 and are at 356 now. It should have been more like 365 now, but with attrition, retirement and a couple of the employees leaving for some reason or another, they did create the 138 jobs, but their total net jobs fell a little short.”
She said not getting the full grant amount doesn’t mean it wasn’t a successful project. It was very successful, she said.
Lane Automotive is the largest employer in Watervliet Township and one of the largest in Berrien County.
“The great thing about Lane Automotive is they really treat their employees well,” LaGrow said. “The average wage for these new jobs was over $18 an hour. They provide full benefits. They also provide on-site training for their employees to make sure they’re doing things the way they want them to be done and also making sure the Lane culture stays intact.”
She said a challenge of the project was that the township went through a federal audit during the four-year period.
“We had never gone through that before with a Community Development Block Grant,” LaGrow said. “I don’t know of many communities that have gone through that. It’s very detailed, but the township came out with a clean audit.”
The only thing left is for the MEDC to do a final grant audit in the next 90 days.
“This is probably the biggest project for the township over the last at least 25 years that I know of. Hopefully we can take a look at another project like this for someone else down the road, either a commercial or another industrial project,” LaGrow said.
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