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Toyota moving into megasite

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper made official what everybody already knew — “Toyota will invest $1.29 billion to make car batteries.”

The plant, scheduled to begin production in 2025, will be built at the 1,900-acre Greensboro-Randolph Megasite west of Liberty and just south of the Guilford County line. It’s expected initially to create 1,750 jobs with an annual wage of more than $62,000.

Cooper compared the development with the Wright Brothers flying the first airplane at Kitty Hawk and life-saving medicines and procedures coming from North Carolina researchers. 

What makes the battery plant so important, he said, is that it’s creating clean energy for transportation, “for the cleaner cars of today and tomorrow.” He said he hopes the company will eventually produce the equipment “that goes around the battery.”

Cooper introduced Chris Reynolds, chief administrative officer for Corporate Resources, Toyota Motor North America. Reynolds told an audience of several hundred that “We will be building our first battery plant in Randolph County in the great state of North Carolina.”

Toyota chose the megasite for five reasons, Reynolds said. He listed the state’s extensive highway and rail systems, three international airports and two seaports, the top state for business, the high-quality universities and the region’s outstanding workforce.

Reynolds said North Carolina would “help Toyota be the leader in electrified vehicles.” 

He quoted the following production figures expected by 2030: sales of 1.5 million batteries and 1.8 million electric vehicles.

Noting the gap in the figures, Reynolds added, “This is only the first chapter of the story in North Carolina. The best is yet to come.” 

Later, he said in an interview, “We’ve got to build (electric vehicles) somewhere,” leaving open the question of what a second phase of construction would entail.

On the podium with Cooper and Reynolds were NC Secretary of Commerce Machelle Sanders, NC Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, NC Speaker of the House Tim Moore, chair of the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Jim Melvin, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn, president of the NC Railroad Carl Warren, and Darrell Frye, chair of the Randolph County Board of Commissioners.

The Greensboro-Randolph Megasite just missed out on a Toyota-Mazda assembly plant four years ago when Huntsville, Ala., won out. It was disappointing to those who had worked for several years to get an automotive plant here.

Warren put it into perspective, calling the latest news “a 10-year overnight success.”

The speakers stressed collaboration and partnerships for bringing the world’s greatest manufacturer of vehicles to the megasite. They also called it “transformational” for the region and the state for decades to come.

Melvin said the reason North Carolina hasn’t attracted a vehicle plant in the past is because there was no megasite and not enough incentives to compete with other states. But those involved in developing this megasite have worked together, “making it possible for lots of people to be working for the best company in the world.”

Reynolds said construction will begin early in 2022 so that production can begin in three years.

Preliminary agreements pave way

The Randolph County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved its own economic development incentive agreement during a public hearing Monday morning at the Randolph Community College Continuing Education and Industrial Center. 

The board also approved an agreement to convey property to the unnamed company.

The agreement is based on Toyota investing at least $1 billion at the megasite and providing at least 1,750 jobs during Phase I and at least $3 billion of investments and creation of at least 3,875 jobs in Phase II within five years. 

For its part, Randolph County will pay incentives to the company equal to 60 percent of the real and personal general countywide property taxes paid to the county by the company over a period of 20 years. If Toyota proceeds to the Phase II expansion, the county’s payments will equal 70 percent of the real and personal general countywide property taxes. 

The county intends to consider transferring to Toyota ownership of all or a portion of the properties currently owned by the county as well as properties currently owned by the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Foundation and planned to be transferred to the county.

The county has estimated the total size of the transfer properties to be 626.45 acres and the total value of the transfer properties to be $21,864,218, valued at $34,902 per acre. 

The NC Railroad owns two-thirds of the megasite and will convey that portion to Toyota.

The approval of a sale will require that Randolph County contractually obligate Toyota to construct, within a period not to exceed five years, improvements upon the property that will generate the tax revenue taken into account in arriving at the consideration and providing for the re-conveyance of the transfer properties to the county if Toyota fails to make the improvements. 

Based on Toyota’s planned investment schedule for Phase I, the county has estimated that the prospective general county-wide tax revenues from the improvements planned to be constructed over the next 10 years to be equal to or greater than $26 million.

During the public hearing, there were 14 speakers, only one expressing opposition to the project. William Dula said he feared that the use of lithium, a toxic substance used in batteries, could permeate the neighborhood. Commission Chair Darrell Frye assured everyone that county inspectors and attorneys had been involved in talks with Toyota concerning the safety of the community.

All the other speakers saw the megasite project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Randolph County and the Piedmont Triad. It was noted that the projected average annual wage at the facility would top $62,000, or a total of $320 million a year just to employees. That doesn’t count ancillary businesses that would come in, it was said.

Vice Chair David Allen, who lives near the megasite, said before the vote that “This is not the end. … There’s a lot more work to be done. We want to make sure Randolph County gets the benefit of its investments, advocate for the county and its investment in the people.”

Greensboro gives the OK, too

The Greensboro City Council also met Monday morning and unanimously approved the transfer of water/sewer lines to the company and waiving fees to Toyota.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “Earlier today, I watched the Randolph County Commissioners approve their incentive package for ‘Project Darwin.’ I want to thank them for their partnership and for their bravery. The road forward wasn’t always easy for them, yet they persevered.”

Vaughan added, “Today’s announcement proved that the city’s targeted investments in water and sewer paid off. … The story of this megasite will be told often. It’s a story of partnerships. It’s a story of risks. … We took a bold step. We took a calculated risk, and today, it paid off for all of the people in our region.”