Growing EV industry could boost opportunities in rural NC

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

By Dylan Rhoney

April 5, 2024

North Carolina has become a leader in the electric vehicle industry. With billions of dollars in investments from companies like Toyota and VinFast, the state is poised to see thousands of jobs created.

 

In 2018, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order that set a goal for North Carolina to have 80,000 registered electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025. Cooper’s office announced last week that the state met that goal in November; two years ahead of schedule.

“We knew the private markets were shifting to electric vehicles so we set bold goals that would help North Carolina communities be ready. Now it’s happening even faster than we anticipated,” Cooper said.

The milestone comes as North Carolina has heavily recruited companies to build electric battery plants and EVs, most notably Toyota and the Vietnamese electric carmaker, VinFast.

Toyota has committed to investing a total of $13.9 billion dollars into an EV battery plant in Randolph County that will create upwards of 5,000 jobs, produce electric vehicles, and allow the company to become carbon neutral by 2050. In 2025, the company is expected to begin producing EVs in its North Carolina plant.

Next door in Chatham County, VinFast is in the process of building an 18-acre plant where it will produce EVs. It is projected that the plant will employ up to 7,500 people and will produce 150,000 vehicles per year.

The plant will be in the district of State Representative Robert Reives, the Democratic Leader in the North Carolina House. Reives believes this plant will bring needed economic and employment opportunities to that part of Chatham County.

The plant will be located in the small rural area of Moncure in southeast Chatham County.

“They have not experienced the massive growth that you see in the northeast. You’ve got a whole area there that’s stayed very very rural… now suddenly they have an opportunity for real growth,” Reives told Cardinal & Pine.

There are times when global companies move into a community and local residents do not always benefit. But Reives said the VinFast plant, as well as the Wolfspeed advanced manufacturing plant in Siler City, are both poised to provide job opportunities to locals in Chatham County.

“Both companies are very insistent on getting local people, and the community is very insistent on making sure that local people get those jobs, because one of the big issues that we had in Chatham County, and why we were so desperate for growth, is 60% of the people that lived in Chatham County worked outside of the county.”

Reives credits Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) President, Dr. Lisa Chapman with putting the community in a position to reap the benefits of the VinFast plant.

“She put together what I would say was a pretty historic community gathering of pastors in the area, to be able to sit them down and say ‘these are the types of jobs that will be available at VinFast. We’ve already got a training curriculum that we’ve set up with VinFast,’” Reives explained.

Reives says that this curriculum is a unique opportunity for the community.

“She [Chapman] has been focused from the get go on training people for VinFast, and then the Wolfspeed announcement came… same thing with them. She set up a curriculum so they’ll be able to train people locally.”

The VinFast plant will be accompanied by a $4 billion dollar investment from the company. The state offered the company $400 million dollars in funding to help build the Chatham County plant, and VinFast could receive up to a total of $1.25 billion dollars in incentives if it fulfills the promises it made for job creation and investment.

With total investment commitments from both Toyota and VinFast topping nearly $18 billion dollars alone, North Carolina is leading the nation in electric vehicle investment.

David Kelly, the Environmental Defense Fund’s North Carolina Director believes the state is well equipped to grow in this sector.

“In North Carolina, I think we pair that policy support with a world class workforce and a strong reputation that we have as a state as a leader in the clean tech industry space, and that we’re seeing the benefits of that competitive advantage relative to our peers’ states,” Kelly said on WCNC’s Flashpoint in March.

Josh Stein, the Democratic nominee for Governor of North Carolina, said in February that the growth of the EV market and clean energy sectors signaled a significant change in North Carolina’s economy.

“Fifty years ago, we were very heavily dependent on tobacco, on textiles, and on furniture. Now we’ve got biotech, we’ve got finance, we’ve got information technology, we’re now expanding EV manufacturing,” Stein told Cardinal & Pine.

Reives says the move towards electric vehicles presents North Carolina with a significant opportunity to grow further.

“What we have to recognize is two-fold. One, we’ve got to recognize as a government that we’ve got an opportunity, and when you’ve got an opportunity like this, take advantage of it. Two, recognize it’s not a zero-sum game. So, our investment in electric doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly going to stop coal, gas,” Reives emphasized. ”You can build both simultaneously together, but you’ve got to recognize that’s the direction that the worlds going.”

Author

  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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