Sawyer firm gets a boost

K.I. SAWYER – Michigan Renewable Carbon has secured $20 million in New Markets Tax Credit allocations and $2 million from Chase to convert a building at the former Sawyer Air Force Base into a production facility that processes biomass into carbon products.

The New Markets Tax Credit program was established by Congress in 2000 to stimulate investment and economic growth in designated low-income communities.

It raises investor capital and leverages public and private funding to provide borrowers, such as Michigan Renewable Carbon, with financing through flexible below-market terms and favorable rates.

James Mennell, CEO of Michigan Renewable Carbon, said the company met the criteria for the program.

“The important part is to quality for the tax credits,” Mennell said.

In addition, this past summer the company received a $9.5 million investment from the publicly traded business-development company MVC Capital Inc., to help fund an expansion of the company, which is a subsidiary of the Minneapolis-based Biogenic Reagents.

Decommissioned in 1995, K.I. Sawyer is designated a “severely distressed” census tract with a poverty rate of more than 30 percent and an unemployment rate of 26 percent.

“Michigan has been hit especially hard by the economic crisis, and it is home to many struggling projects that are ideal for NMTC funding,” said National New Markets Fund President Deborah La Franchi in a written statement.

Michigan Renewable Carbon already has built two primary reactors, Mennell said. The latest infusion of money will expand the facility.

“The money immediately is going into the No. 3 reactor,” Mennell said.

The company has 23 employees and hopes to expand to 45 by next year, he said.

Mennell said the tax credit will be a considerable benefit to Michigan Renewable Carbon, operated on a five-acre parcel at Sawyer.

“It really helps,” he said. “As a new company employing new technology, this funding really assures our company’s duty to create and sustain jobs and have a company that’s going to be around for many years to come.”

The company will process biomass from wood feedstock using new technology that reduces costs and emissions.

“It purifies water, it purifies food, it purifies pharmaceuticals,” Mennell said.

Carbon products produced at the Sawyer facility will be made with renewable energy and created from renewable biomass from suppliers involved in sustainable production.

The facility’s production technology will create no wastewater and achieve a 90-plus reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, mercury, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, Mennell said.

Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said the project not only has the potential to spawn new businesses, but can help stabilize the region’s lumber industry and increase demand for locally sourced lumber and wood byproducts.

The new facility, in addition to job creation, is expected to attract other businesses to the 1,200-acre former Air Force base, Erbisch said.

The material used to create Michigan Renewable Carbon’s products is sawdust and woodchips that will be sourced exclusively from lumber mills within 50 miles of the project.

The company is collaborating with local loggers, foresters, farmers and transportation companies to better the sustainable growth and supply chain of renewable biomass.

It also will partner with Northern Michigan University on life-cycle environmental benefits analyses, biomass supply and the development of sustainability best practices, officials said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is