IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

State Economic Development Agencies Adapt to Cleaner Energy

States like Georgia and North Carolina are courting the electric vehicle industry, attracting investments from not only car companies, but battery and charging manufacturing efforts as well.

Two men in business suits standing in front of an electric car charger on the side of a street. Behind them is a silver electric car ready to be charged.
State economic development agencies are taking note of an economy shifting toward green energy and cleaner cars as they redirect job strategies aimed at these industries.

It’s not just car manufacturing heavyweights like Michigan and other parts of the upper Midwest, but Southern states as well, which have spent several decades developing a strategy to grow auto manufacturing and its supply chain. Economic development officials in Georgia point out the state’s connections with international markets going back 50 years, and how these relationships are translating to investment in today’s electric vehicle trends.

“That sort of continuity, and continued investment from our state … that’s truly a testament to this sort of long-term relationship-building approach that our state has had to companies, both internationally and domestically,” said Kristi Brigman, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, in an interview with Government Technology in March.

North Carolina officials have announced sizable investments from not only Toyota, which plans to develop a battery manufacturing facility in the state, but operations to build charging infrastructure equipment, a whole new piece of the auto ecosystem that is quickly emerging, creating investment and jobs.

Kempower Inc., a European manufacturer of fast electric vehicle charging stations, announced it will invest $41 million for a new production facility in North Carolina, creating 300 jobs in Durham County, said Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).

“With the new facilities in North Carolina, Kempower will start to produce NEVI [National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure] compliant DC fast-charging units in 2023 and gain the ability to directly supply its customers in the United States,” Chung added, calling attention to the federal program to build out a network of 500,000 high-speed EV chargers across the nation.

Toyota announced it will invest some $2.1 billion in North Carolina as part of its first North American battery facility. The project was first announced as a $1.29 billion investment in 2021, with expansions announced in 2022 and 2023. The project, now valued at $5.9 billion, will create 2,100 jobs and is expected to be completed in 2025.

“This new plant in Randolph County will initially produce batteries for Toyota’s hybrid electric vehicles and intends to produce batteries for battery electric vehicles long term,” Chung explained.

Helping to move along the electric vehicle transition includes state mandates, as well as federal incentives, found in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Both pieces of federal legislation provide incentives for building out public charging infrastructure and the purchase of EVs. Those incentives are tied to requirements around the domestic production of batteries and their components, creating fresh momentum to push international car companies to locate more production and development in the United States. These provisions have been championed by President Joe Biden’s administration as the kind of public policy that is able to grow the U.S. manufacturing sector and address climate change by hastening the adoption of EVs.

Georgia officials were, however, dismissive of the role federal legislation has played in the state’s economic development wins, saying Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration has long been focused on growing the EV industry.

“Honestly, Georgia’s strategy has predated federal policy, and the IRA,” Brigman said, pointing out the job growth in the electrification industry “really began about 2020. And this has been a focus for our state, as a strategic industry for years now.”

Some 19 projects announced in the EV industry total nearly $15 billion in investment before the IRA became law.

“While we have had several projects announced since the IRA came into effect, the majority of the projects were ones that we had begun working well before the IRA was signed into policy,” said Brigman, who then signaled “unintended consequences” of legislation like the IRA, saying it “harms Georgia’s largest investors, and also proposes higher costs on consumers at a time when consumers are making their early first decisions on vehicle purchases.”

Electric vehicles seem to be catching on with consumers in the Peach State. As of September 2022, there were more than 42,600 EVs registered in Georgia, up from a mere 15,500 in 2014, according to the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance in Georgia, a consortium of public- and private-sector organizations charged with growing the EV manufacturing industry.

The state is also aligning its workforce training with the electric vehicle industry, by working with the technical college system to ensure students have the right skills for a reshaped auto industry.

“Workforce training is really one of the reasons that companies are coming to Georgia,” said Brigman. “It’s one reason we’ve seen so much success, particularly in the EV industry.”

In North Carolina, one out of every three workers in the clean energy and clean transportation sectors have participated in an education or training program through the North Carolina Community College System, said Chung, adding numerous programs such as the North Carolina A&T University’s STEPs4Growth training program is focused clean energy workforce training across 16 distressed counties.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.