LIBERTY — After years of planning and negotiations, the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite landed a partner that more than satisfied what organizers had dreamed of for the site. On Dec. 6, Toyota Motor North America announced they were investing $1.29 billion to build their first battery plant on the continent, which will also be the largest private investment in state history. The manufacturing site is predicted to bring $9.5 billion to the state economy over the next two decades, and the initial 1,750 jobs are just the very early impact on the region’s employment.
NSJ was on site for the 2 p.m. announcement, which took place in a packed tent in a windblown field at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. The site is in the small town of Liberty in Randolph County, but is only minutes from Guilford, Alamance and Chatham counties. The tent held a who’s-who of North Carolina government officials (local, state and federal) as well as major business and nonprofit interests. In the speeches of those presenting, as well as in interviews with those present, two themes frequently surfaced — the transformational nature of the project to the region and the firm belief that this announcement was only the first of many.
During the event, the loudest applause seemed to come for Toyota Motor North America chief administrative officer Chris Reynolds. He gave Gov. Roy Cooper two gifts on behalf of the company — one an aluminum race car with the number 21 on it, representing 2021 starting a race to the future, and the other a figure of a battery, like those that will be manufactured on the site. Cooper had moments earlier presented Reynolds with a commemorative plate with the state seal and motto, “Esse quam videri” on it, but after the gifts from Toyota, Cooper joked that “We’ve got to get better gifts.”
Reynolds said that by 2030, he expected 70% of Toyota’s sales will come from electric vehicles, adding, “Why am I giving you all these figures? I want you to know the future looks bright for this site in North Carolina,” since the N.C. site will be making batteries for electric vehicles.
Reynolds said production on the batteries is slated to begin in 2025 and gave five reasons why they chose North Carolina — its highways and railways, its air and seaports, being consistently chosen as a top state for doing business, its “world-renowned education system,” and “most importantly, North Carolina has an outstanding and diverse workforce,” one he said Toyota intends to hire from, train and develop.
Reynolds also noted the site’s failed bid four years earlier, joking that there are many classic songs about how “Good things come to those who wait” and about “the second time around.” He said, though, “it was really due to the North Carolina leadership’s enthusiasm, cooperation across party lines, and perseverance that we’re here today.”
Alluding to big announcements to come, Reynolds said to loud applause, “I’ll try to be as clear as I can: This is only the first chapter of our story in North Carolina. And it’s a very long book.”
A possible hint at what’s to come came during Cooper’s speech, when he said, “We hope, in the future, everything that goes around the battery will be part of this as well.”
NSJ was able to connect with a number of public officials before and after to get their reactions to the big announcement.
Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican who represents Guilford County, told NSJ that “Something like this will be a real shot in the arm. [Guilford County] needed to land a major victory, and this is it. And I think there’s more to come.”
When pressed on what the more to come will be, Hardister said, “I will say, keep your eye on Piedmont-Triad International. Keep your eye on the airport, and very soon, we’re hoping to hear something.”
He added that just like there were $300 million in incentives that helped close this deal with Toyota, there was a big incentive package in the budget that could help seal the deal with an unnamed airplane manufacturer looking to set up shop at the PTI airport.
“I can’t speak specifically about that, but if that happens, that would be transformational just like this project is transformational,” Hardister said. “So we’re looking at here in a short span of time two very big companies making investments in this area. That really validates the fact that, I believe, we have made North Carolina the most business-friendly state in the country.”
U.S. Congressman Ted Budd, a Republican who is seeking North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022, also told NSJ he was also excited about Toyota’s announcement and the impact it would have on the region.
“At a start, first of all, we’re proud to be part of the global supply chain here in North Carolina,” Budd said, alluding to the supply-chain difficulties the country is currently seeing. “This is going to bring about 1,750 jobs to start, not including the construction… We want jobs in general here, but manufacturing jobs seem to have the biggest downstream effect for the add-on jobs for the people that support manufacturing.”
As was noted by many of the speakers at the event, which included Gov. Roy Cooper, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), there was disappointment four years ago when Toyota passed on the site when looking for a home for a different project, instead landing in Alabama. But Budd praised the state for continuing to pursue Toyota and other big players despite the setback.
“Remember, there was a big runup, and we hoped that we would have this announcement four years ago, but it was not to be,” Budd said. “But our state didn’t give up at any level, and now we’re reaping the rewards of that. And now we’re having a large manufacturer still take a look and select our state here. That’s good news, and nothing breeds success like success, so there’s probably more announcements in the future. We’re certainly going to work towards that end.”