Toyota and Arrival EV plans show how the industry is growing in NC
North Carolina is known for banking and financial services, biotech and pharmaceuticals and technology. Is it time to add electric vehicles to the list? Two economic development announcements this week suggest the answer is yes.
On Monday, Japanese automaker Toyota announced plans to build a $1.29 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Randolph County, south of Greensboro. The plant is Toyota's first in North America as it tries to catch up with other automakers in the EV business. It comes with at least 1,750 jobs.
The same day, British electric vehicle maker Arrival unveiled plans to expand its presence in the Carolinas by building an $11.5 million battery assembly plant in Charlotte. The company already has its North American headquarters in Charlotte's South End, an electric van assembly plant in the city and an electric bus factory in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Announcements like these are starting to add up. Even before this week's news, the two states had already attracted dozens of companies that supply the electric vehicle market — from raw materials like lithium for batteries to vehicles themselves.
That's prompting a bit of bragging. At the Toyota announcement Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper predicted, "the world will look at North Carolina as a hub of clean energy and clean energy jobs."
Research confirms that the EV industry is expanding across the Carolinas, from the Research Triangle in North Carolina to Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina.
The Environmental Defense Fund has been tracking growth of the electric vehicle industry since 2014 and lobbying for policies to boost it. According to data EDF gathered with the help of consulting firm PWC, here's how the numbers stack up, not including this week's announcements.
- North Carolina had 39 EV-related companies with 11,564 employees around the state. Announced investments totaled nearly $1.2 billion before the Toyota deal. They include the planned Piedmont Lithium mine and processing operation near Bessemer City, Daimler Trucks plants in High Point and Mount Holly, and Linamar's electric motor plants in Wilson and Fletcher.
- South Carolina had 19 companies with 8,722 employees and total announced investments of $419 million. That includes battery and component makers, electric motor suppliers and vehicle assembly operations like the Daimler Mercedes-Benz van plant in and the Arrival bus assembly plant under construction in Rock Hill. And BMW has said it plans to build electric vehicles at its plant in Spartanburg.
Tim O'Connor, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund, said this week that with all the investment so far, North Carolina, in particular, may be well positioned to attract more business as demand for electric vehicles keeps growing.
"North Carolina really is at the opportunity stage to be able to capitalize on that investment and growth in demand, more so than many other states in the U.S.," O'Connor said.
The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the area's primary business recruiter, sees lots of opportunities ahead.
"We're excited because this is the future, and it's happening here in our backyard," said Kelly O'Brien, the alliance's chief advocacy and strategy officer.
Added Antony Burton, a researcher at the alliance: "These types of announcements develop momentum that can build upon and help grow the cluster moving forward."
Besides having existing businesses in the EV sector, the region has "strong infrastructure, a low cost of doing business and a good workforce education system."
Both states also are spending millions of dollars on tax rebates and other incentives to help lure companies to the region. This week's Toyota deal came with $430 million in state and local incentives, with more possible if the company expands, according to The Associated Press.
Officials said the Toyota announcement came after four years of recruiting. The plant will be built on what's called the Randolph Megasite — a piece of land that the state has been marketing to industrial companies for many years. Competition with other states is fierce, said Ward Lenz, executive director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.
"We've missed out on a few opportunities over the years,” Lenz said. “And that's why (Toyota) is such a great announcement, that we're starting to land those and getting more and more of those.
"The Arrival announcement and then a Toyota announcement on the same day, are really going to help that market and help North Carolina continue to recruit companies like that.”
The week's news, and the growth of the EV supply chain in North Carolina, have not escaped the attention of the region's biggest energy producer, Duke Energy. In an interview this week at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance's annual outlook, CEO Lynn Good said the industry has "a lot of potential" here.
"There's so much energy infrastructure here, around not only EVs, but the energy industry, that there's a real possibility there," Good said.
And electric-powered vehicles may not be the only part of this weave. Good also said Duke Energy is studying the possibility of building a "hydrogen hub" somewhere in the Carolinas. That could mean a research and development facility to help foster the development and adoption of hydrogen-powered vehicles here and across the country. Someone has to build all those hydrogen refueling stations.
See the official announcement of the Toyota plant by the state of North Carolina
A version of this article appeared in WFAE's weekly climate change newsletter on Dec. 9, 2021. Read and subscribe here.