Sometimes, when I see trends taking place in our state and region, I start my day getting an opinion from my new friend, Chat GPT.

My question of the week to Chat GPT: Does clean energy create manufacturing jobs?

ANSWER:  The production of clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles can lead to job creation in manufacturing facilities. As demand for these technologies grows, so does the need for workers in manufacturing plants.

Chat GPT, you are correct.

The news of the day certainly seems to be the aggressive growth of green manufacturing  jobs in the Old North State. I am literally getting charged up with  positive clean tech job growth that is taking place in North Carolina. On his recent visits to North Carolina and during his State of the Union, President Biden continues to remind us that manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States during his first term in the White House.

There is a green manufacturing renaissance taking place right before our eyes, largely sparked by  Investments made by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS).

Our governments (U.S. federal government and some state governments) continue to provide incentives and support for the development and manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries.  In fact,  More than 270 new clean energy projects have been announced since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), with private investments totaling $132 billion, according to the Bank of American Sustainability Report. In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act has created over 170,000 jobs and brought in over $110 billion of clean energy manufacturing investment.

Turn your attention to North Carolina, which is certainly transforming into a mecca of clean energy investment.  Toyota is investing $14 billion in an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in North Carolina, creating 5,000 jobs. The Liberty, N.C., facility goes live in 2025 — a byproduct of federal laws passed since 2021.

VinFast to build a talent pipeline for techs ahead of 2024 plant opening

Indeed, the state is now a hub for electric vehicle component manufacturing, with investments totaling $760 million from Eplison Advanced Materials, and Kempower, Inc. In 2022, Wolfspeed, one of the world’s largest producers of silicon carbide wafers used in electric vehicles to increase battery range, announced a $5 billion investment in a semiconductor manufacturing plant. President Biden visited the Wolfspeed Plant in Durham last year, inspiring workers,  community leaders and elected officials on the American manufacturing comeback.

Companies have invested more than $11 billion in the electric vehicle industry over three years, including a $2 billion investment from VinFast, a Vietnamese auto manufacturer.

Electric vehicles mean more batteries

All of these initiatives are focused on  promoting clean energy technologies, reducing emissions and creating jobs. These investments are expected to be accompanied by more than 86,000 jobs, including 50,000 jobs related to electric vehicles.  Investment in new manufacturing capacity for zero-emissions vehicles, batteries, and critical minerals have jumped more than 100 percent, climbing from $15 billion in the year before Inflation Reduction Act’s passage to $35 billion in the year since its passage, according to the Clean Investment Monitor.

In the same time period, electric vehicles (EVs), including plug-in hybrids, have jumped from 4.4 percent2 to 9.9 percent3 of new passenger vehicle sales.

This increasing demand for electric vehicles has driven the need for more electric batteries. This demand has led companies to establish or expand manufacturing facilities in regions with significant EV markets, including the United States.

The Forge Battery story

One does not have to look further than Forge Battery and their recent investment in Morrisville to see that that much of the  electric battery manufacturing is taking place right in our own backyard.  Forge Battery, a new subsidiary of Forge Nano will be investing $165 million in Morrisville and creating about 200 jobs, all of these jobs focused on the production of world class batteries. Forge Nano is a nanotechnology company, founded in 2011, and headquartered in Colorado, that specializes in surface engineering and precision nano-coating solutions.

Battery manufacturer picks Morrisville for new ‘gigafactory,’ 200+ jobs

A majority of the jobs will be in engineering and advanced manufacturing, and Forge plans to hire from our local universities.

Last month, I  attended the Forge Battery Town Hall at Wake Tech RTP in Morrisville with Forge Nano executives, Wake Tech President Scott Ralls and other community leaders.

Here are a few of my takeaways from my visit.

Supply chain resilience

Forge Battery CFO Michael Kleinberg opened up his remarks by reminding us how the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in global supply chains.

As he spoke, memories came back to of how I could not even buy a car during the pandemic as we did not have enough chips, and batteries being made in the United States. I was going to have to wait a few months before the 2022 Hyundai Tuscon I wanted was on the shop floor. Reliance on countries like China and Taiwan for these chips and batteries hurt our economy and we learned that we had to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers to return to a resilient and vibrant economy. Producing batteries in the U.S. allows manufacturers to respond quickly to market demands and reduce transportation costs as well.

At the end of the day, Forge Nano executives all made it abundantly clear during the meeting that they are fully committed  to establish or expand domestic manufacturing sites, and they are very excited about their plans for growth in Morrisville and the Triangle. Good news for all of us.

World class innovation

Another key takeaway from the event was that Forge Battery brings world class experience in nano technology to develop high quality batteries in the United States so are not so dependent on foreign battery manufacturers. Years of research, and work in this area, has positioned them as a market leader and they look forward to employing over 200 employees in Morrisville, investing $165 million in the region.

And we are not talking just any type of battery. These are batteries developed using very specific nano technology, which makes the batteries more efficient and reliable in a number of indusries. The company focuses on developing technologies for advanced materials, including atomic layer deposition (ALD). These techniques allow for precise control of material coatings at the nanoscale.  The company’s technology has various applications, including improving the performance and durability of batteries, catalysts, and other materials used in industries such as energy storage, electronics, and chemicals. In addition, Forge Battery can also provide these types of batteries to power up and run clean energy data centers, a topic which was addressed at the UNC Clean Tech Summit this week.

Forging forward with Wake Tech

The Forge team  shared their excitement about  partnering with Wake Tech for training the local workforce for many of these new jobs, and Ralls emphasized what a game changing this investment is in our region. This focus on innovation has attracted investment and contributed to the growth of the electric battery manufacturing sector. Ralls reminded us that Wake Tech Community College is leading the charge to keep up with the rapid acceleration in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing. He made reference to the Wake Tech Grid to Plug  and Plug to Wheel programs which teach electrical degree students how to install and repair electric vehicle charging stations – grid to plug – as well as transportation program students how to safely diagnose and repair electric cars and trucks – plug to wheel.

Kudos to Congresswoman Deb Ross, who has secured $1 million of federal funding to Wake Tech which will jump start new EV training at Wake Tech by providing state-of-the-art EV service and diagnostic equipment and professional development for faculty to add EV instruction to four existing degree programs – Automotive Systems Technology, Collision Repair and Refinishing Technology, Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technology and Electrical Systems Technology.

Ralls is very excited about Wake Tech’s role as an emerging national leader in EV education. These programs will enable the college to meet the demand for more highly skilled technicians to support the growing number of electric vehicles in the region and the state’s ambition of creating clean energy jobs. He looks forward to working with Forge Battery on providing training and resources for the workforce they will need as they grow in Morrisville, which will largely come from the EV training programs in place.

North Carolina’s clean tech sector on the move

In closing, I could not forget the words of North Carolina Secretary of Commerce at the RTP Clean Tech Awards at SAS in December 2023, who reminded the attendees of how North Carolina has emerged as a destination for market leading companies, all focused on North Carolina investments which help us with carbon emission reductions and moving towards  to net zero. Just this week, I was able to attend the UNC Clean Tech Summit, where EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, addressed  a packed house.  The secretary confirmed the explosive job growth taking place in the country after the Inflation Reduction Act.

My recent visit with Forge Battery confirms the momentum we are seeing in North Carolina with investments by companies focused on sustainability efforts.  In addition, as I have mentioned before, we also need to invest and grow clean tech start ups in the region. For example, soon to be Morrisville based Susteon looks forward to developing and manufacturing carbon capture and renewable technologies which will not only create jobs but will help our region in reducing carbon emissions.

No pun intended, but am feeling charged up about our green manufacturing future.

I will end this blog with two of my favorite words: Collaboration and Innovation.

Championships are won when we bring the best out in each other. This is clearly taking place in our region as we continue to execute the critical plays in our sustainable innovation playbook. We are bringing together world class innovation, market leading companies and stakeholders in government, economic development and the private sector to create the jobs of the new economy right here in the Triangle and across the state.

It has been inspiring to see Forge Battery make every effort to collaborate with  community leaders, elected officials in Morrisville and our community college leadership, to make sure that their investment is helping our local community thrive from not only the world class jobs being created, but the focus on clean energy and carbon reduction.

Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a council member at large for the Town of Morrisville and an opinion writer for WRAL Tech Wire.  He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force.