DETROIT — Dakkota Integrated Systems LLC is looking into expanding its manufacturing footprint in Detroit at a former high school site where the Stellantis supplier recently opened a plant.
Dakkota’s instrument panel assembly plant on the city’s east side spans 345,000 square feet on what once was the Kettering High School’s athletic field. The plan had also included demolishing the school buildings on the property for a plant double that size, but it never came to fruition.
Dakkota CEO Andra Rush told Crain’s Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News, on Thursday that those plans are still in play.
“I would love to have some kind of purposeful and meaningful long-term opportunity on the Kettering school site,” Rush said after a media event at the plant. “From these products that we are assembling, major components that are coming offshore and onshore, we hope to find common components that we can manufacture not only for Stellantis or General Motors but Toyota, Honda …”
Rush said Dakkota is considering building additional factory space on the site that would be equal in size to the one built during the COVID-19 pandemic and opened in March 2021. She said the project could also involve workforce training and education like what took place on the property before the school closed in 2012.
Rush said she is targeting dollars from the federal government to support the redevelopment and is in regular contact with the city about it.
“We are in talks,” she said. “We’ve got to kind of firm it up. We want to find the right thing.”
Rush said she would like to see the redevelopment happen in the next two to three years, but said it is too early to offer projections for specific timeline or cost.
Dakkota was forced to sideline the initial redevelopment plan at the site because it needed to expedite launch to meet the needs of Stellantis, so it opened another 423,000-square-foot plant in Hazel Park, Dakkota President Lori Rush Lancaster said.
“As we look at the Kettering High School that’s next door, we see opportunity, but a lot of things have to go into place to make that happen,” Lancaster said. “There’s nothing definitive yet.”
Rush offered her broader vision for Dakkota’s presence in Detroit in the afterglow of a “grand opening” for the plant that was delayed by the pandemic. Speakers at Thursday’s event included Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mayor Mike Duggan, Stellantis COO Mark Stewart and Michelle Sourie Robinson, president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council.
Stewart said Stellantis and Dakkota “worked hand in hand” with the city and partners to get the plant done.
“So pleased that Andra decided to locate it right here in Detroit so close to our facilities because as we go forward, another key part of this is distance for our supply base,” Stewart told reporters at the event.
Under Rush, Dakkota is one of the largest Native American, women-owned companies in the country. Rush quietly shut down her trucking business in February 2021, a month before production launched at the plant in Detroit.
Locating in the city was important, Rush said, because Dakkota — which means “friend” or “ally” in the Native American Dakota language — values diversity and uplifting the community in which it does business.
About 90 percent of the Detroit plant’s 500 employees identify as a member of a minority group, and more than 40 percent are women, according to the company. After six months on the job, employees are eligible for pre-paid college tuition, books and continuing education programs.
“We will help you find an area of interest or expertise that you can get excited about,” Rush said. “What I find is that people believe in me back … So, Detroit, knowing what it was and what it can be … I’ve always wanted an opportunity to find that.”
The company aims to hire another 75 people in the coming months.
“The fact that this a Michigan production right here at Dakkota Kettering top to bottom is a point of pride for all the people who work here but also for everyone in our state,” Whitmer said at the event.