The North Carolina Railroad Co., a private company owned by the state, is aiming to recruit an auto manufacturing plant to the state and is helping buy 875 acres of land for a “megasite” to host such a facility in Randolph County.

“We need to be ready” if a manufacturer looks to expand, says NCRC President Scott Saylor.

At an event in the Triangle earlier this week, N.C. Governor Pat McCrory said the state continues to pursue what he called a “big dog” for economic development.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Saylor was asked if he knew of any recent moves by the state to land a company.

“I haven’t heard anything specific at this point,” he said.

However, Saylor said the land deal announced Tuesday is essential if North Carolina was to lure an auto plant. The state has tried and failed on numerous occasions over the years to secure an auto plant, unlike South Carolina, Alabama and others.

NCRR is committed to economic development as part of its mission. For example, a recent project is a near-$7 million to build a new railroad bridge in Morrisville.

The latest deal is big as a public-private partnership led in part by the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Foundation assembles a “megasite” of some 1,400 acres. Also participating in the buy alongside NCRR was the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation in Greensboro. An auto manufacturer not only would be a “substantial” rail user but the building of a plant also a “significant multiplier effect” for additional jobs.

Asked why NCRR is investing in a megasite, Saylor explained that an auto plant “would create a lot of jobs.”

“Absolutely. You got it,” when he was asked if it was important a state offer more than tax incentives and rebates in order to secure a plant investment. “A company will be looking for so much more than tax incentives. That is why the land is so important.”

However, just having the land isn’t enough, he stressed.

“Auto plants are so tremendously capital intensive,” he said. “That’s why there has to be a package of land, of infrastructure, of site preparation.”

In a letter announcing the deal, Saylor said that an auto manufacturer not only would be a “substantial” rail user but the building of a plant also a “significant multiplier effect” for additional jobs.

The state has four potential megasites for a plant, he added, and the NCRR is prepared to assist other sites.

“This is part of a much larger effort to promote North Carolina and to create jobs,” he explained. Saylor said the NCRR has a 165-year history of “being engaged in economic development” and stressed that “we are not alone.”