Reporting Matt Roush
ROMULUS (WWJ) – Much of Michigan’s Democratic political establishment congratulated Waltham, Mass-based A123 Systems Inc. for making its 1,000th Michigan hire Monday in an event at A123′s new Romulus battery components plant.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Reps. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) attended, along with Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and federal Energy Secretary Stephen Chu.
In Romulus, A123 has taken over a 287,000-square-foot former plastics automotive plant, empty for the past two years, and turned it into a high-tech plant that will manufacture electrodes — cathodes and anodes — for electric vehicle batteries. Those electrodes will be shipped across Wayne County to Livonia to A123′s battery assembly plant on Seven Mile Road. The Romulus plant will soon employ about 200 people, A123 CEO David Vieau said.
“These jobs did not come about by chance,” Vieau said. “They have happened as a result of support and a significant amount of work by state and federal government to close the gap between the cost effectiveness of building a plant here vs. building a plant in Asia.”
Included was help from the federal stimulus and from the Michigan Economic Developement Corp, Vieau said.
Sen. Levin argued that there are “two paths” for the future of American manufacturing.
“One path is to support our manufacturers, because the competition is not a company in Korea or China, it’s a country, a government, somewhere else, that supports its companies, that provides funding for those companies,” Levin said. “The other path is to ignore our manufacturers. And we saw for too long what happens when we let our manufacturers fend for themselves.”
Sen. Levin’s brother Sander Levin, meanwhile, argued that “we have to make our own future … and if we do not make it, some other country will.”
And Ficano said that “A123 and the federal government have shown that we can work together and create a path… for the advancement of an industry.”
Chu, meanwhile, said the Obama Administration “will not cede high-tech manufacturing to any other country. We want advanced batteries to be made in America and sold not only in America but worldwide.”
In an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters after the former event, Chu said he also still believes biofuels can be an important part of the next-generation automotive mix. And he said he’s not overly concerned about electric vehicles’ impact on the grid since most charging will be done at night, which will help utilities balance their loads. In fact, he said, EVs could help utilities get better return on their capital, which will moderate utility prices.