Southgate eyes 600 new jobs by end of 2011

Opportunities abound with Wal-Mart, AJM Packaging

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — Mayor Joseph Kuspa wanted “local” jobs for his community, and with the not-too-distant opening of Wal-Mart and the expansion of AJM Packaging Corp., that wish – and patience – was rewarded.

All told, the two projects represent an estimated 600 new jobs, which city officials worked to ensure would stay as local as possible.

“We asked them to have their hiring center here in Southgate,” Kuspa said of Wal-Mart’s current hiring center at Michigan Works!, 15100 Northline Road. The store is scheduled to open Sept. 14, and Kuspa said the local employment opportunities came about as part of the city’s negotiations with Wal-Mart.

“It’s a very positive sign, and very convenient for people to apply for jobs,” he said.

Ground was broken for Wal-Mart in September 2010, a step considered a key factor in revitalizing the northwest corner of Dix-Toledo and Eureka. Kuspa said the mega-store first approached Southgate more than 10 years ago, but at the time wanted to expand further away from the confines of the strip mall.

“There were certain things when it first came in that would have disrupted public utilities,” Kuspa said. “They came back several times, downscaled, and finally in 2008, 2009, it was able to fit within the same center. Now it didn’t require any variances.”

Wal-Mart will replace a strip mall that formerly housed Best Buy, a home improvement store and other outlets. The last of the center’s tenants vacated in 2008, and construction of the 156,000-square-foot Wal-Mart began with demolition of the former strip mall.

On the heels of Wal-Mart’s opening will be expansion of Bloomfield Hills-based AJM Packaging Corp. at 11800 Reeck Road. The manufacturer of paper plates, cups, bowls and bags used more than $500,000 in state tax credits for the expansion, originally believed to bring more than 100 jobs to the community, although Kuspa said estimates have increased. AJM’s total investment in the Southgate facility is expected to top $28 million in property and personnel.

Kuspa said those jobs – now expected to number around 300 – were expected to go elsewhere.The company considered expanding its operations in New Jersey, but Kuspa said that Southgate officials, in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, lobbied to keep those jobs Downriver.

“We put a package together that allowed them to stay in Southgate,” Kuspa said.

These projects and packages are, Kuspa said, only the beginning of a long journey of recovery, one a long way from completion.