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St. Joseph County Council OKs first step in tax abatement process for proposed EV battery plant

A rendering of the company’s Lansing, Mich. facility, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2024.
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Ultium Cells
A rendering of the company’s Lansing, Mich. facility, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2024.

More details are in on the proposed multibillion-dollar EV battery plant that may be coming to St. Joseph County.

Ultium Cells, a joint venture between LG Energy Solutions and General Motors, is considering a site east of New Carlisle at the northwest corner of Larrison Drive and Indiana State Route 2 for its fourth EV battery plant.

The company has one plant in Warren, Ohio with production slated to start this month and is currently building two more facilities — one in Spring Hill, Tenn. and the other in Lansing, Mich. The plants make battery cells for GM vehicles as part of the company’s goal to go all-electric by 2035.

Representatives say the proposed $2.4 billion, 2 million square foot St. Joseph County facility would bring 1,600 jobs with an average wage of $22.60 an hour plus benefits including health insurance, 401K and tuition reimbursement.

Vice president of operations Tom Gallagher said Ultium Cells would partner with local schools and universities to find workers, which he called a “key aspect of training and developing a workforce.”

Gallagher said the company has done that at its three other plants and is also focused on creating opportunities for new and underrepresented parts of the workforce.

For example, he said 30 to 40 percent of hires for Ultium Cells’ Ohio facility are re-entering the workforce. The company has had almost 5,000 applicants and has an acceptance rate of greater than 90 percent for job offers.

“We’re not coming in as a new employer targeting employees from other employers,” Gallagher said. “We’re looking at underrepresented parts of the community.”

The St. Joseph County Council unanimously approved the first of three steps to create a tax abatement for the project Tuesday. It’s being brought forward in an expedited schedule outside of the normal process.

Economic development executive director Bill Schalliol said that’s necessary because the county is one of several candidates and needs to be ready to be considered.

“Sometimes government needs to move at the speed of business, and this is one of those unique opportunities to do that,” Schalliol said. “It is not site selection, necessarily — it’s site de-selection, or site elimination — but we need to be competitive. We need to move this project forward.”

But several members of the public, including Steve Francis, said that it’s moving too fast.

“I think the company certainly could wait and make sure that the community’s questions are answered,” Francis said.

In response to questions from council members on the plant’s environmental impact, company representatives said all raw materials would be processed indoors and all byproducts of what goes into the batteries would be recycled or reused, since the components are very valuable.

Most deliveries and finished products would arrive and leave by truck and wastewater would be clean enough to be sent to the local sewage treatment plant — they say Ultium Cells has been certified to that standard in Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.

The facility would get New Carlisle city water and South Bend city sewage, and groundwater monitoring would be in place to protect the underlying aquifer.

But Francis said the final abatement should include a binding commitment to net zero carbon emissions, such as by adding solar panels to the roof of the facility, and that more details on groundwater monitoring and the aquifer should be presented to the public before a decision is made.

“It’s very exciting, but with strong concerns,” Francis said.

In response, Schalliol said that would happen at meetings over the next several weeks. He stressed that the Tuesday action was the first of three steps.

It established a 50-year economic development area that only applies to Ultium Cells with no commitments from the county and will only come into effect if the tax abatement is approved as part of the final development agreement in a few weeks.

If the project goes through, construction would start late this year — bringing up to 2,000 union jobs — and production would begin in 2025.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.