Obama Visits Michigan To Hail Advanced Battery Production

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Though the visit was partially overshadowed by partisan gridlock, President Barack Obama talked up the advanced battery industry in Holland Thursday, his second visit to the West Michigan city in 13 months.

The president came to tour the plant of Johnson Controls-Saft. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. received federal grants and state tax incentives to retrofit an existing Johnson Controls building for its first lithium-ion cell manufacturing and battery system assembly plant in the United States. Advanced battery production began there in last year.

In July 2010, the president attended the groundbreaking ceremony for LG Chem/Compact Power’s $300 million battery plant, also located in Holland. LG Chem is currently hiring workers and is expecting to ramp up production of electric vehicle batteries in 2012.

In all, Johnson Controls will invest more than $299 million in the plant and create more than 700 new jobs.

In remarks to some 400 dignitaries and Johnson Controls employees, the president highlighted the key role innovative technologies will play in helping automakers achieve the new fuel economy standards, establishing United States leadership in advanced vehicle manufacturing, spurring economic growth, and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting edge industries across America.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was 10.5 percent in June, and Obama has promoted the job-creation benefits of spending money on producing such clean-energy technologies as advanced batteries.

“At a time when Americans are rightly focused on our economy, when Americans are asking about what’s our path forward, all of you here at Johnson Controls are providing a powerful answer,” Obama said. “This is one of the most advanced factories in the world.  You’re helping America lead in a growing new industry.”

Obama press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the batteries are among the innovative technologies crucial in “helping automakers achieve the historic fuel economy standards, establishing U.S. leadership in advanced vehicle manufacturing, spurring economic growth and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America.”

In remarks made before the President spoke, Johnson Controls chairman and CEO Stephen A. Roell said Johnson Controls is at the forefront of creating an advanced battery industry.

“Through innovation and investment in technology and people, Johnson Controls is a leader in the energy storage industry,” Roell said. “We are investing more than $460 million in our advanced battery business for manufacturing and technical facilities here in Michigan and the U.S. These investments will lead to over 700 new jobs, retention of another 400 and approximately 1,000 construction jobs.”

Roell pointed to several previously announced projects in which Johnson Controls is investing:

* Start-Stop Vehicle Technology, near Toledo, Ohio – Johnson Controls is investing $138.5 million to convert and expand an existing plant to produce batteries for Start-Stop vehicles, which have been successful in the European market and will be introduced next year in the U.S. These batteries help reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 5 to 12 percent for internal combustion engine vehicles with little added cost for the consumer. This investment will retain 400 jobs, and create 50 new positions and 800 construction jobs.
* Battery Technology and Test Center, Milwaukee, Wis. – Johnson Controls recently opened its newly renovated Battery Technology and Testing Center in Milwaukee. It is the largest energy storage R&D center in the country with 60 new jobs.
* Meadowbrook Li-ion Battery Production Facility, Holland – This new facility will be the first in the U.S. to produce complete lithium-ion battery cells and systems for hybrid and electric vehicles, producing battery systems for U.S. based automakers, such as Ford’s Transit Connect. The facility was supported in part by a $299.2 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act matching grant and more than $168 million in incentives from the state of Michigan. Johnson Controls invested $299.2 million to match the ARRA grant and more. Employment at this facility will be 320 at full capacity. Johnson Controls has committed to building a second plant in the United States. Once a location is identified and the facility constructed, it would add nearly 300 additional jobs when at full capacity.

“These projects are great examples of public-private partnerships that use innovation and technology to produce products that reduce fuel consumption and create jobs,” Roell said. “We are grateful for the outstanding support we have received from the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Michigan and the city of Holland for their vision in building an advanced battery industry for vehicles in the U.S. and for the financial incentives that were provided. We want to express our appreciation to President Obama for his leadership on improving the energy efficiency of buildings and his support of the auto industry. We are honored that he has selected to tour our facility.”

More at www.johnsoncontrols.com.

Some Boy Scouts were on hand, and they said they were impressed by the high-tech theme.

“It’s an investment in the future,” said Armaan Dandavati, 17, of Holland. “The building itself helps provide jobs, which is immediate. But the products that they are building and that the facility here develops will continue to aid the economy.”

“You have to start somewhere,” said Zach Rolinski, 18, who had a summer job with Johnson Controls. “A building like this with so much attention from leaders, it will allow a good start and allow it to get on the right track. It will offer more growth from there.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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