The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter, blogs at Starkman Approved. This column first appeared on his blog.
By Eric Starkman
I’ve never been to Marshall, MI, but I know they have some very ethical people working at the local hospital. That’s why I have a soft spot for the place.
In April 2020, at the height of Michigan’s pandemic, Metro Detroit’s biggest hospital system called Beaumont Health without explanation closed its facility designated to treat Covid patients and cleared the place out. A local television station reported that more than 40 patients, some on ventilators, were transferred to the local VA hospital; at least one of those patients died.
Beaumont also cleared out some Beaumont patients from its other hospitals, including the one in Grosse Pointe. Although the Marshall hospital, about a two-hour drive from Detroit, had only a smattering of Covid patients, none on ventilators, they agreed to accept three from Beaumont. One of those patients required dialysis, but the Marshall hospital’s contracted dialysis company refused to come in on a Sunday. The patient had to be transferred to Kalamazoo, about 36 miles away. It’s my understanding the patient died.
The Marshall hospital’s medical staff were angry when they learned Beaumont’s designated Covid hospital was closed without explanation. They made sure word got out about Beaumont transferring a Covid patient requiring dialysis, and I know one medical staffer planned other measures. According to an email obtained by the Detroit TV station, Beaumont transferred its Covid patients because the CEO said the hospital system was losing too much money treating them.
Marshall is big news in Michigan these days, as the state has earmarked more than $1 billion in subsidies for Ford Motor Co. to build an electric battery plant on area farmland. Ford says it will own the plant and create 2,500 jobs, but it must rely on a Chinese battery manufacturer for the technology know how. According to the Detroit News, Ford will receive $680,000 in subsidies for every job it creates. The jobs will average about $45,136 a year, 15% less than the median household income in the county where Marshall is located.
Most Marshall residents don’t earn enough to afford Ford’s pricey electric vehicles. Adding one insult to injury, Ford’s electric Mustang is manufactured in Mexico. An event bigger affront is Marshall residents are being forced to give up farmland so that Ford can manufacture its Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, a climate destroying vehicle that’s useless for anyone genuinely requiring a pickup truck.
Bloomberg on Sunday posted this story revealing that much of the aluminum used to manufacture the Lightning originates from a Norwegian-owned refinery in Brazil accused of sickening thousands of people.
These two paragraphs from Bloomberg’s meticulously reported story captures the essence of what the news outlet’s reporters uncovered:
A class-action lawsuit on behalf of 11,000 residents of neighborhoods surrounding that refinery, Hydro Alunorte, names owner Norsk Hydro ASA of Norway as responsible for polluting their rivers and streams. The suit cites toxic mud containing elevated levels of aluminum and other heavy metals, which are byproducts of refining bauxite into alumina, the white powder that becomes aluminum. Alunorte’s actions, it alleges, have caused health problems such as cancer, hair loss, neurological dysfunction, birth defects and increased mortality.
“Every single day we die a little bit,” says Maria do Socorro, 57, whose community group Cainquiama is the lead plaintiff and who lives in an open-air house not far from the refinery. Her grandson’s organs broke through his skin at birth, and eight people in her family have been stricken with cancer, she says, including herself and her husband, who she says died as a result. “We are victims of this company, Hydro. They come and make money and leave nothing for us.”
That Norsk Hydro is Norwegian-owned, and its biggest shareholder is the Norwegian government is yet another validation of the Starkman Approved theory, which holds that those professing the noblest virtues and ethics almost never live up to their claims. Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund previously pledged a “renewed focus on sustainable development in the broadest sense.”
What environmentalists should find especially galling is that the Ford Lightning is useless for those who genuinely need a pickup truck and venture far from home. The truck’s battery loses half or more of its range when towing a vehicle, and it also loses considerable range in extremely cold temperatures.
“If a truck towing 3,500 pounds can’t even go 100 miles — that is ridiculously stupid,” Tyler “Hoovie” Hoover, a YouTuber with more than a million followers, said in the accompanying video. “This truck can’t do normal truck things. You would be stopping every hour to recharge, which would take about 45 minutes a pop, and that is absolutely not practical.”
YouTuber Scotty Kilmer, a mechanic with more the five million followers, has warned his viewers to shun Ford’s Lightning, saying it’s “an unproven technology” that’s being rushed to market. Kilmer issued his warning in wake of Ford closing down its F-150 Lightning plant for at least a month because a truck mysteriously caught fire in a holding lot near Ford’s River Rouge plant on the edge of Detroit and spread to two other trucks. It took Ford at least a week to determine the “root cause” of the fire.
This Wall Street Journal story about Panasonic’s Tesla-owned battery plant in Nevada is a must read for Marshall residents. It took Panasonic six years to get the gargantuan Gigafactory plant up and running smoothly, and the company is looking to Kansas and Oklahoma to build even bigger facilities. I can’t find details of the planned battery production of Ford’s Marshall plant, but my sense is it will be puny compared to Panasonic’s plant in Nevada and the EV plants Ford is building in Tennessee and Kentucky where the company pledged to invest more than $11 billion and create more than 11,000 jobs.
Building the Marshall plant will enable buyers of Ford’s EVs to qualify for tax breaks. Ford claims it will invest $3.5 billion, but when the story initially leaked to the Detroit News, the reported price tag was $2.5 billion. In a matter of days, Ford’s committed investment somehow increased 40 percent.
Reading up on Marshall this morning I regret not having visited the place when I lived in Michigan. As described by My Michigan Beach, a website devoted to “sharing the beauty of Michigan,” Marshall is “home to many historical sites and is a great city for tourism and learning about Michigan’s history.” The place is rife with museums, trendy boutiques, historic homes, and restaurants I sense meet Starkman Approved standards.
Building an electric battery plant anywhere near the bucolic place strikes me as criminal.
Marshall residents are understandably concerned.
“Before we rush to embrace what some refer to as progress, first pause to consider what will be lost when land that has produced literally tons of corn and beans to feed a hungry nation is covered in concrete. It cannot be reclaimed,” the Detroit News quoted Fredonia Township resident Linda Smoot saying at a recent town hall meeting. “With the entrance of the Ford company, more farmland will inevitably be lost to housing and strip malls.”
Smoot doesn’t have an online presence, so I’m uncertain of her background and expertise. But her instinctive wisdom about protecting Marshall’s farmlands is spot on. Maintaining the area’s rustic conditions could possibly attract 2,500 jobs or more than Ford claims it will generate and better paying ones as well.
A 2019 report from the U.S. Small Business Administration found that small businesses generated 44 percent of all economic activity in the country. That year, small businesses created two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S. According to Business News Daily, in the post-pandemic world, small businesses have been the backbone of economic recovery and job growth.
“Small, locally owned businesses and startups tend to generate higher incomes for people in a community than big, nonlocal firms, which can actually depress local economies,” Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics at Penn State and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, said in a statement published alongside the SBA’s research.
As reported by Business News, Goetz said his research revealed that small businesses directly benefit local economies – much more so than large businesses. This is because big box and large corporations have internal systems for services such as accounting, legal, supply and maintenance that are not necessarily based within the county or state. Small businesses must outsource these functions and usually rely on professionals within their local or regional communities – professionals who are likely to spend that money in the same community.
Imagine if Michigan earmarked $1 billion in subsidies for small businesses to incorporate or relocate to Marshall. Michigan is home to some of the best law firms in the country, many of which are increasingly being retained by major corporations who have come to appreciate their work rivals that of the big New York law firms but comes with considerably lower fees and arrogance.
In addition to offering a superior quality of life, Marshall is a geographically desirable location for a law office doing business throughout the Midwest. It’s less than a two-hour drive to Detroit, about two hours to Chicago, about three hours to Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Law firms typically pay good wages, so encouraging them to open offices or satellite facilities with full-time employees could generate meaningful dividends.
Healthcare is another potential opportunity. There’s a lot of innovation happening Michigan, ranging from developing alternatives to opioids for surgical recoveries to cybersecurity. Had Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel not turned a blind eye to the decline of Beaumont Health, southeastern Michigan could have been developed into a top-tier medical hub with Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan’s teaching hospital, about 30 miles away.
Then there are the so-called climigrants, young entrepreneurs and workers who can work remotely and consider Michigan environmentally desirable because of its proximity to water and not being prone to ravaging forest fires, floods, or hurricanes. Crain’s Detroit Business published an impressive feature about the climigrant trend and identified people who understand it and are trying to lure the environmentally conscious to Michigan.
Finally, with companies all boasting about their environmental commitments, Marshall provides an opportunity to demonstrate real sincerity. Offering to move 2,500 jobs to Marshall that will pay as much as Ford’s battery plant providing that Ford doesn’t build the facility would make a real environmental statement. Google employees who supposedly fashion themselves as “progressives” might want to do some soul searching about their company’s extensive relationship with Ford, particularly their work on the climate destroying Ford Lightning.
Ford and GM have demonstrated no loyalty to Michigan, and as I’ve previously argued, have betrayed America. While Ford claims its Marshall battery plant will generate 2,500 jobs, the company has disclosed plans to fire 3,000 better paid Michigan salaried workers and greatly expanded its design, engineering, and manufacturing facilities in Mexico. At least half of Ford’s workforce is located outside the U.S. Ford’s brand is fading, as some 70 recalls and damning jury verdicts have revealed some disturbing truths about the automaker.
If EVs are indeed the future, I wouldn’t bet a Marshall farm on Ford’s success.
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