By Rob Clark, Director of Communications and Community Relations

When Jim Martin was a kid, he loved to tear stuff apart to see how it worked before putting it back together.

He carried that same level of curiosity into his professional career, working first as an engineer for General Motors and then for Michigan Sugar Company, where he began as an Electrical Engineer in August 1990 and retires today (Monday, Jan. 4, 2021) as the Director of Engineering.

“Jim Martin has shaped the factory operations of the company over his 30 years, touching nearly every part of every factory we operate,” said Jason Lowry, Vice President of Operations for Michigan Sugar Company. “Jim was a driving force behind the energy conservation projects that have resulted in Michigan Sugar being among the most energy efficient factories in the country and he has guided the company efforts to mitigate risk in the sugar handling areas of the factories.”

Lowry said Martin has managed Michigan Sugar Company’s $65 million expansion project at its factory in Croswell the past five years.

“We will realize the results of Jim’s efforts later this year as the final phase of the project is brought online.  I would like to thank Jim for his contributions to the success of Michigan Sugar, many of which we will reap the rewards of for many years to come.”

A native of Cincinnati, Martin grew up in Northville, Michigan, and graduated from Northville High School in 1977. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1981.

He began his career shortly thereafter working as a Controls Engineer for General Motors at the company’s Grey Iron Foundry in Saginaw. In a few short years he worked his way up to the position of Senior Engineer and served as the Chief Electrical Engineer for a $300 million expansion at the factory that took place from 1985 to 1988.

He later served as General Supervisor of Maintenance before coming to Michigan Sugar Company.

In his first position at Michigan Sugar Martin focused on controls and power distribution. In 1996, he was named Chief Engineer and worked his way through the sale of the company to Imperial Sugar, the formation of the Michigan Sugar Company cooperative in 2002 and the merger with Monitor Sugar Company in 2004. At some point in time, his title was changed to Director of Engineering.

Martin says he has always seen himself as a “player-coach,” adding one of his career highlights was overseeing Michigan Sugar Company’s apprenticeship program for several years, while another was teaching Programmable Logic Controllers classes aimed at educating electricians all about the computers used to run Michigan Sugar’s factories.

“I always enjoyed serving as a mentor to others,” he said.

Other notable highlights of his 30 years at Michigan Sugar include:

  • Installation of the 150-foot-tall sugar silo at the Croswell factory in 1991, as well as a new gas boiler, and beet receiving and washing station, which was one of his final projects, completed this past fall.
  • Installation of the steam dryer, diffusion tower, pulp pressing and packaging robots in Bay City.
  • Installation of the diffusion tower and packaging robots in Sebewaing.
  • Installation of the cossette mixer, liquid sugar tank, and gas boiler in Caro.

Through it all, what he said he enjoyed most was “getting stuff done.”

“We have always been a tremendously nimble organization where you could actually get projects done,” said Martin. “And our company leaders have had great foresight to continue investing money in our factories. They deserve recognition for that.”

And just like when he was a child, Martin always enjoyed the fruits of his labors.

“In some cases, you could work for three years on a project and then you got to turn it on and see it work. It was always exciting to go push the button to turn something on and see it go.”

Aside from his work family, that is what Martin says he will miss most about working at Michigan Sugar Company.

“I’ll miss the problem solving and getting projects implemented,” he said. “I won’t miss the budgeting, but I will miss the projects.”

Martin’s co-workers say he was a strong, steady, and reliable presence in the engineering department.

“His dedication and commitment to Michigan Sugar is hard to put in words,” said Mark Flegenheimer, President and CEO of the company. “Ask anyone, at any factory, and they will tell you about Jim working on projects or fixing problems at every hour of every day of the year. We will miss his keen insights and expertise. The positive impact he has had on our cooperative will last for many decades.”

Nick Klein, former Bay City Factory Manager who succeeds Martin as Director of Engineering, said Martin placed the company above everything else for the past three decades.

“While at the Bay City factory, I recall numerous times calling on Jim for technical help, many of those of which were in the middle of the night. If Jim did not answer the phone, it was only minutes later before he returned the call,” said Klein. “Jim has taken great pride in what he does and is a tireless professional. His dedication has always been appreciated by all and in many cases contagious, bringing the team together to solve problems in the heat of battle. It has been a pleasure working alongside Jim and I wish him all the best in his retirement.”

In retirement Martin and his wife Terry plan to continue living in Thomas Township near Freeland. The couple has two grandchildren, Matthew, 9, and Abigail, 7.

Martin said he plans to continue enjoying his hobbies, all of which are centered on the great outdoors – camping, backpacking, canoeing, running, and mountain biking. He said it is his dream to paddle all the rivers in the Saginaw River basin.

“The Cass, Flint, Tittabawassee, Shiawassee, Chippewa … I’m going to paddle them all up to every, last little ditch,” he said.