The much-anticipated electric-vehicle battery plant coming to northern Randolph County could start actually going up as early as late this month.
Randolph County Economic Development Corp. President Kevin Franklin relayed the news at the monthly meeting of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association Piedmont Triad chapter, on Thursday.
A site grading contractor began work in early February, and plans for the foundation and first buildings have been submitted for local review, with the hope that the land title will be transferred to Toyota in a couple of weeks, Franklin said. A spokesperson for Toyota told TBJ last week that an official groundbreaking is expected by late summer.
“The latest is that, my understanding, they are still planning to begin physical construction before the end of this month,” Franklin told the Triad Business Journal in a follow-up interview on Friday. “That’s kind of been their target, and it looks like they’re going to hit it.”
Franklin was joined at the NAIOP meeting by Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen. Both were among people who worked on developing the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite that lured Toyota. In December. Gov. Roy Cooper led the announcement that Toyota would build its first North American electric-vehicle battery plant there.
Franklin and Christensen related how they and many others working on the site regrouped after a join Toyota-Mazda plant was chosen for Alabama, and eventually got the attention of Toyota.
One surprise in the process came when Toyota said it did not want natural gas, and instead sought renewable energy. Franklin, Christensen and the rest of the team conferred with Duke Energy, which was able to assemble green energy credits.
No other site-seeking companies had ever made such a request for renewable energy, Franklin said.
“For some projects, the opportunity for renewable energy becomes more desirable,” Franklin told the TBJ. “I know the state of North Carolina and Gov. Cooper are working hard to ensure that there are more renewables. There's conversations about offshore wind, and of course, there's a lot of solar already across the state. … For the certain client it makes North Carolina more attractive if there's more renewable energy opportunities available.”
Some environmental-review preparation had to be re-done after it was learned that Toyota was looking to build a battery plant, not a vehicle-assembly plant, Franklin and Christiansen noted. State environmental-review personnel told them some of the work would have to be redone, but it did not prove to be a major obstacle.
The start of construction, whenever it happens, might prove to be only an early manifestation in North Carolina of the electric-vehicle industry.
Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, said the auto sector has become a major driver of economic-development projects in the state, and he suspects electric vehicles and related industries are driving that.
Not far down U.S. 421 to the southeast lurks another electric-vehicle site: Electric-vehicle maker VinFast plans its first North American electric-vehicle plant with an anticipated 7,500 jobs for the Triangle Innovation Point megasite in northeastern Chatham County, aiming for production to start in 2024. It’s North Carolinas first and so far only vehicle-assembly plant.
Norris Tolson, CEO of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, recently said his region is zeroing in on opportunities for the Kingsboro Megasite near Rocky Mount, according to the Triangle Business Journal.
Franklin said it’s his understanding that Toyota’s target now is to make batteries for the passenger-vehicle market, at first for hybrid electric vehicles, but with a likely second phase of the site for all-electric vehicles.
“And I don’t think that they will be supplying only Toyota vehicles.”