RALEIGH – The nearly $1.3 billion investment that Toyota will make in North Carolina to establish the company’s first battery manufacturing plant in the United States is huge for the future of the state and only became reality after more than four years of work, starting after the company decided against the site location for a Toyota-Mazda plant in 2018.
But the project announced at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite yesterday, which was code named ‘Project Darwin,’ came to the office of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) through a site selection consultant, said Chris Chung, CEO of EDPNC, in an interview with WRAL TechWire yesterday after Toyota announced the investment in the state.
“Everybody made a really good impression four years ago,” said Chung. “All those things helped make sure that Greensboro-Randolph County was always going to be on the short-list based on the impression four years ago.”
In relaying their decision, said Chung, Toyota provided a set of feedback to state and local leaders, including those involved with the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.
And those leaders acted on that feedback, which prepared the site to be selected this time.
“That was a difference maker,” said Chung. “North Carolina has a history of getting this done in recent years, across party lines, at all levels.”
One example, said Chung, was clearing land acreage to better provide an understanding of topography, potential locations of buildings, and a greater capacity to visualize a future facility.
Toyota selected the site for its facility, which company executive Christopher Reynolds confirmed yesterday would be the company’s first battery plant in the United States, and expects the plant to be operational by 2025.
It’s a transformative opportunity, said Chung, not just for the region, but for the state.
“We’re excited,” said Chung. “There’s some research that we’ll need to be doing, about what that spin-off looks like, that have had battery plants up in running,” said Chung, noting one example to consider could be the Tesla factory in Reno, Nevada.
To prepare for the potential future of electric vehicles, said Chung, EDPNC commissioned a study regarding the electric battery supply chain earlier this year.
“We were seeing a lot of these projects come through our door,” said Chung, adding that there have been about a half dozen projects involving some component of electric vehicle manufacturing in the EDPNC pipeline at some point this year.
“How do we leverage this in growing North Carolina as a hub for clean energy, electric vehicle manufacturing,” said Chung.
“Toyota coming here, that’s going to make big waves in Japan, big waves in automotive, it’s going to get us on the conversation with other companies that we don’t know about, that said, there are plenty of companies in this sector that we could be approaching and we will be approaching as North Carolina,” said Chung.
“We’ve made no secret about this,” he added. “One of the more dominant subsectors that we’ve seen emerge in, really, just the large 12 months.”
Not only is the announcement from Toyota validation about what Greensboro, the Triad, and North Carolina can offer to Toyota, said Chung, but it’s also a signal to other companies and to Toyota suppliers, that North Carolina is poised to be a leader in clean energy, electric vehicle manufacturing, and business.
“You can’t understate how important it is to have a company such as Toyota, with Toyota’s stature, make this sort of selection,” said Chung. “It establishes North Carolina as a hub for a sector that we know is going to be growing in importance for the American economy in the decades ahead.”