BY: JILL NOLIN – DECEMBER 17, 2021 1:00 AM
Shane Short doesn’t own an electric vehicle. Yet.
“I’m probably going to be driving an electric truck in about two years,” said Short, an official with the local joint development authority that just helped land one of the biggest economic development projects in Georgia history.
Two years is about how long it’s expected to take for the electric vehicle start-up Rivian to fire up a new factory at a nearly 2,000-acre site in a rural area east of Atlanta, which are plans that were publicly announced Thursday outside the state Capitol. It will be the company’s second U.S. manufacturing site.
“Electric vehicles are going to be the new future for us, and we’re going to reduce that carbon footprint worldwide,” said Short, who is the economic developer for Walton County and who said his dad worked for General Motors. “And I think the more people can see these types of vehicles, ride in these vehicles and understand what they really mean and their impact, they’re going to want those vehicles as well. This kind of technology really is just so much cleaner for our world.”
The state officials who heralded the project Thursday discussed it in sweeping terms, not just for the economic impact to the state of the $5 billion investment but also the project’s role in bolstering the state’s clean energy credentials.
Georgia is already home to electric vehicle battery maker SK Innovation in Commerce and Hanwha Q CELLS’ massive plant in Dalton, which was the largest solar panel factory in the western hemisphere when it officially opened in 2019.
When fully operational, the new factory is expected to build about 400,000 vehicles a year. The kind of truck expected to be built in Georgia was parked inside Liberty Plaza.
“Today is also about Georgia’s emerging leadership role in a booming, innovative industry that will benefit our state and our citizens for generations to come,” Kemp said into a microphone at Liberty Plaza.
“We’ve all been preparing for a company and a project like Rivian for a very long time,” he said. “We also knew the electric automotive and supply chain ecosystem was only going to grow over the next few decades, and that Georgia had the fundamentals not only to compete for these projects, but to win.”
The project, which will straddle Morgan and Walton counties, will yield Georgia an estimated 7,500 jobs over several years. The site had been in the state’s economic development database for about five years.
Rivian’s chief people officer, Helen Russell, stood alongside state officials and pitched a job opportunity directly to the listening public. Nearly two dozen Georgia-based jobs were posted as of Thursday.
“As a public company, every employee at Rivian owns a piece of the business. Similarly, we have highly competitive compensation and benefits packages. And we’re really looking forward to bringing those packages to Georgians,” Russell said.
It remains to be seen, though, how much the project will cost taxpayers. Kemp deferred comment on state tax incentives to the state Department of Economic Development.
Pat Wilson, who leads the agency, told reporters Thursday the details are being finalized and said the incentives would be outlined about a month later and posted online. He compared the package to the one offered to Kia when it came to West Point but did not provide a ballpark figure for the size.
Georgia beat out Texas and other states for the plant. Fort Worth dangled $440 million in tax incentives this year in an effort to win the Rivian sweepstakes, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Kemp told reporters the state’s allure went beyond incentives.
“It’s a lot more than that, because there’s a lot of states that can give cash incentives and other things. But if you don’t have a good site, if you don’t have good logistics, and if you especially don’t have a good workforce, none of that matters. And what I sold to them was speed to market and workforce,” Kemp said.
Construction is set to begin this coming spring, with the California-based company pledging to build a “carbon-conscious campus” in its release about the project. Locals have expressed concerns about the impact on farmland; a lone protester held a sign Thursday asking the company what it will do to protect the watershed and night sky. The company said town hall events will be planned near the site for residents.
“This is the most environmentally conscious company that I’ve ever dealt with,” Wilson said. “And they are in fact doing a survey of trees on the property to make sure that they minimize their impact on the green space in the property. And so we’re really excited to bring a company like that to the state.”
Rivian is still ramping up production at its facility in Normal, Illinois. The company posted a $1.23 billion loss for the third quarter, saying its vehicle production is currently less than its manufacturing capacity. The company is working on producing its R1T truck, R1S SUV and EDV commercial van.
In Georgia, only a small portion of the driving public is behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. Overall, the number of electric vehicles in Georgia make up a little more than 1% of all automobiles newly registered in the state. That small percentage has held steady the last three years.
It remains to be seen whether having a Georgia-built electric vehicle will change that.
“When I look at Rivian’s announcement, I see jobs,” House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said in an interview Thursday. “This is a real game changer. This is going to have a huge positive effect on our economy here in the state. That’s what I see first of all. If it gets into driving habits and purchasing habits, I think only time will tell.”