Every workday, hundreds of workers stream into Saline from all points of the compass, headed to jobs at one of nearly thirty small to midsize companies tucked away in the city’s four industrial parks.
The parks’ high activity contrasts with low visibility–they’re not part of the city’s iconic Victorian architecture nor of its active downtown. Yet “the industrial parks are vital to our community’s well-being,” says Saline mayor Brian Marl.
These quiet engines of commerce comprise nearly 400 acres on the city’s eastern fringe. The Saline, the Redies, and the Shelton industrial parks are north of Michigan Ave. along Industrial and Woodland avenues. The Sauk Trail Business Park is on Industrial south of Michigan.
His predecessors, Marl says, “had the vision and the commitment to creating economic opportunities in the Saline community decades ago.” Former mayor Don Shelton says the private Redies park came first, developed by Bob Redies of R&B Machine and named for his father, Edward F. Redies, who’d originally bought the property.
Shelton himself was instrumental in developing the neighboring city-owned park. “Instead of just putting a sign in the ground that says ‘industrial park,’ which a lot of cities do, we put in the roads, figured out the parcels, and also put in the underground services,” he recalls. “That gave us a leg up” in recruiting businesses. The city renamed it in Shelton’s honor after he left office in 1986.
Now the founders’ hard work and persistence have come to fruition. The parks are full of makers and doers who produce everything from books and flatbreads to circuit boards and machine tools. The companies provide so many jobs, city leaders say, that Saline is no longer just a bedroom community.
“There’s a lot of folks who live in Saline, and they go elsewhere for work,” says city manager Todd Campbell, “but there’s a lot of folks who come into Saline for work.”
In a community of just more than 9,000, the city’s thirteen largest private employers together provide jobs for more than 3,250 workers, according to a 2015 survey by the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce.
Eleven of those thirteen employers are located in the industrial and commerce parks, where almost 1,500 workers do everything from maintaining jetliner components to making soy milk. Add in smaller companies, and total employment easily rivals the 1,700 who work for Saline’s largest employer, the auto-parts supplier Faurecia.
“The industrial parks have made us somewhat different, and I think it’s good,” says Art Trapp, the chamber’s executive director. Each week, Trapp says, the chamber fields at least two or three inquiries from people interested either in doing business or living in Saline.
One of those businesses is Liebherr. Since 1989, the family-owned European manufacturer has increased its local presence from a single field-service rep to some 200 workers in both its aerospace and automotive divisions. Steve Fracassa, Liebherr’s engineering manager, says Saline’s “small-town atmosphere” was one of the attractions.
In 2008, Liebherr purchased a fifty-four-acre parcel adjacent to its sites in the Redies park. According to Marl, the company was looking to expand either in China or Saline; city incentives, including a tax abatement and expedited site plan and building permit approvals, helped win the project for Saline.
In October, the company broke ground on a 43,000-square-foot expansion to its current 133,000-square-foot facility. When that’s completed next spring, the company will hire about fifteen more workers to repair aircraft components.
For decades, local governments have used industrial and business parks as economic development tools to entice companies into their communities. In addition to tax abatements and planning, Saline also can help with infrastructure and job training. In exchange, it gets a stronger property tax base and jobs for residents.
“That’s why communities got into the industrial park business–to grow your tax base so you could have a reasonable tax rate and still afford all the amenities that your residents would like to see,” Campbell says.
In Washtenaw County today, there are some thirty-three industrial parks on more than 3,400 acres of land, says Donna Shirilla, director of research and business information for Ann Arbor SPARK, which has worked with Saline on its economic development strategy.
“A lot of companies that will call us looking for locations really want to be in an industrial park,” says Shirilla, adding that they like being near other companies doing similar work, with the critical infrastructure of water, sewer, electrical, and decent roads already in place.
In a city of just four and one-third square miles–surrounded on all sides by townships where farms and residential neighborhoods predominate–Saline’s leaders are still eager to see the city grow. The city is working with Swisher Commercial to market the remaining parcels in the industrial parks, with a website at salineland.com.
“Saline would like to see the parks fill up,” Campbell says. And Marl says they’re making progress: he expects to be able to publicly share news of “two other really exciting developments in the industrial parks” sometime in November.