Detroit — An automotive supplier that builds interior components, suspensions and grilles for major automakers is planning to open a 600,000-square-foot factory on the site of the vacant Kettering High School on Detroit's east side, three miles from where Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to build the city's first new automotive plant in nearly three decades.
Michigan-based supplier Dakkota Integrated Systems announced plans to purchase for $2.6 million from Detroit Public Schools the 32 acres housing the vacant Kettering High School and Rose Elementary School on Van Dyke at Interstate 94. The company has 14 locations in the U.S. and Canada, including one in Sterling Heights.
The tier one supplier plans to raze the buildings and build a $55 million factory, which would create 625 jobs to supply the Jeep factory that Fiat Chrysler plans at the Mack II engine plant. It's the first ancillary development announced since FCA officially broke ground on its future factory. According to Mayor Mike Duggan and Dakkota CEO Andra Rush, it provides another chance for Detroiters to get a job in the auto industry.
"This is the city that we are trying to build," Duggan said told a small group gathered in front of the blighted school. "This has been a long abandoned and neglected site that has long been a drain on Detroit Public Schools."
The only piece of the school expected to survive construction is the large blue Kettering "K" on the site. Existing park equipment would be moved to a new site.
The Detroit Public Schools system had been paying to maintain the schools since Kettering closed in 2012. The elementary school closed in 2006. The buildings' windows are boarded up and painted black. Trees and shrubs are overgrown, and weeds have overtaken the parking lot and what would have been common areas around the school. Barbed-wire fence surrounds the grounds.
"The fact that this opportunity has come here is great," said west-side resident Branden Horner, 23. He came to the announcement Tuesday looking for a job. He said he plans to apply as soon as Dakkota starts accepting applications.
Rush said her company plans to have the facility partially opened by the spring, and fully operational by late 2020. The supplier won't be held to the same community benefits agreement standards as larger facilities, but has agreed to follow the same practices that FCA said it would follow when hiring for the plant: Detroit residents get priority.
The supplier also plans to delete the question from its application that asks if an applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. The city plans to notify Detroiters once the applications open through an online form. Would-be applicants can fill out their information with their phone number at detroitatwork.com/Dakkota, and the city plans to notify them once Dakkota begins hiring.
To qualify for the priority list, applicants must have valid identification proving they live in Detroit, meet Dakkota's requirements and attend a Detroit at Work job readiness event, which are held throughout the city this summer.
For Sharon Hunter, 60, the plant is a relief. She attended Kettering High, and has lived in the neighborhood most of her life. She walked to the announcement Tuesday to thank the mayor and encourage young people in the neighborhood to come look for a job at the plant.
"Your job is right here," she said. "Just walk."
Fiat Chrysler spokesman Kevin Frazier in a statement: "While this new facility will bring even more new jobs to the area and strengthen our manufacturing footprint, we also believe that investments like this one will help build a more vibrant community and provide stability for the future. We encourage others to take notice and join us in investing in Detroit."
Duggan said Tuesday Dakkota won't be the only supplier opening up in the city to supply the Jeep plant.
Dakkota plans to start work on the plant this fall, pending City Council approval to zoning changes. The project's incentive package will need to be approved by the City Council, too.
Duggan plans to request city and Michigan Strategic Fund approval for a 10-year Detroit Next Michigan Development Corporation Renaissance Zone abatement on real property, corporate income taxes and utility user taxes, similar to that granted to supplier Flex-N-Gate on its new Detroit plant.
"There will be other suppliers coming," Duggan said. "This is the first."