With a ceremonial groundbreaking today, Detroit’s largest automotive supplier development in more than 20 years is now under way on the city’s east side.

The I-94 Industrial Park, which until recently had been vacant for years, should see completion early next year of a new $95-million facility for Flex-N-Gate, which will supply parts for Ford. The company is expected to create 400 jobs initially, but that number could grow to 750.

Mayor Mike Duggan joined Flex-N-Gate owner Shahid Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who is listed by Forbes as one of the 100 wealthiest Americans, Councilman Scott Benson and others for the ceremony in the industrial park northeast of the I-94/I-75 interchange and touted the significance of the moment.

“This is the kind of development that we’ve been working for. It’s the kind of development Detroit has not been able to compete for in recent years, but we’re starting to compete and win right now,” Duggan said.

Khan spoke of his desire to build in Detroit, saying “we’re here because Detroit is synonymous with U.S. manufacturing … and the American dream is synonymous with Detroit.”

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He also credited Ford, calling it the impetus for the project. The Free Press previously reported that Flex-N-Gate planned to build a plant to supply parts to Ford and that the deal came together in part because of the personal involvement of Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

Ford is one of four vice chairmen of the Lions, and his family has owned the team since 1965 while Khan owns the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I believe in the people of Detroit and the rebirth of the city, and it’s absolutely a joy and a pleasure and a privilege to be a small part of that,” Khan said.

Flex-N-Gate will build on 30 acres of the 186-acre industrial park that was vacant for almost 15 years, but will soon have several facilities on site, including an ArcelorMittal subsidiary to produce steel, laser-welded blanks for automakers later this year and a Linc logistics center, part of Manuel (Matty) Moroun-owned Universal Truckload Services, which is already operating, according to previous reports.

Flex-N-Gate  said it is committed to hiring Detroiters at the site first. The bulk of the hiring is expected to take place in the middle part of next year.

Khan said the average value of workers’ wages and benefits will be about $25 to $27 per hour.

“The key things we’re looking for is people in the area who are going to show up for work, be drug- and alcohol-free — obviously — and then be willing to learn, and we’ll have great jobs for them,” Khan said.

The area of the city where the industrial park is located is reported have the highest unemployment in the city.

Councilman Scott Benson, who represents the area, District 3, called the city’s efforts to secure the project a shining example of the mayor’s office partnering with city council and residents. Part of those efforts included discussions with residents on where to direct truck traffic. The project is noteworthy not only for its size, but also because it represents a significant development outside the areas of the city that have seen the most growth and attention in recent years.

“This is not downtown. This is not in Midtown. This is on the northeast side of Detroit. In fact, we haven’t seen this kind of development in generations,” Benson said.

For Gregnicca Triplett, 45, of Eastpointe, the groundbreaking means the fulfillment of a promise long delayed.

Her grandmother, Fannie Pearce, had lived on Helen Street in a six-bedroom house, one of those cleared for the industrial park many years ago.

“My grandmother has passed. She would have loved to see this,” said Triplett, who still attends the nearby Elyton Missionary Baptist Church.

The neighbors who had to leave to make way for the industrial park have waited a long time for the promised jobs, she said, calling the development eye-opening as she gazed toward a large mound of dirt and earth-moving equipment.

Duggan noted that project was assisted by tax incentives. That includes a tax-free designation in October, which should save the company more than $1 million per year for 10 years, and a $3.5-million state grant to open the plant.

Flex-N-Gate, which is based in Urbana, Ill., and was incorporated in 1956, has been growing. In late March, the company said it completed its acquisition of seven former Plastic Omnium businesses in Europe. Four were in France, one in Spain and two in Germany, according to a company press release.

Khan called the purchase a milestone.

“Our stronger European presence now gives us significant new advantages to anticipate and address the needs of our current and anticipated European and global customers,” Khan said in a statement.

In 2009, Flex-N-Gate acquired part of struggling automotive supplier Meridian Automotive and bought Sandusky Lighting, a former division of Visteon, in 2012.

Flex-N-Gate provides product engineering, project management, testing, stamping, welding, molding, painting, plating, assembly and shipping. Prior to the Plastic Omnium announcement, Flex-N-Gate had 48 manufacturing and nine product development and engineering facilities in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, China and Spain.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @_ericdlawrence. Staff writer Christina Hall contributed to this report.

Flex-N-Gate jobs

The company says it is accepting applications for professional, management, skilled trades and production jobs.

How much will workers get paid? The average value of workers’ wages and benefits will be about $25 to $27 per hour. 

For more information: Go to flex-n-gate.com/Detroit/