Toyota is investing $8 billion in an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in North Carolina, creating 5,000 jobs. The Liberty, N.C. facility goes live in 2025 — a byproduct of federal laws passed since 2021.
“The size, frequency, and nature of these deals are unprecedented,” Christopher Chung, chief executive of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, told me in a Zoom interview. “Before 2021, we might see a billion dollars once a year. It means more business for us if folks want to criticize these bills and not pursue opportunities. We want to attract these jobs of the future.”
Indeed, the state is now a hub for electric vehicle component manufacturing, with investments totaling $760 million from Eplison Advanced Materials, and Kempower, Inc. In 2022, Wolfspeed, one of the world’s largest producers of silicon carbide wafers used in electric vehicles to increase battery range, announced a $5 billion investment in a semiconductor manufacturing plant.
Companies have invested more than $11 billion in the electric vehicle industry over three years, including a $2 billion investment from VinFast, a Vietnamese auto manufacturer.
In 2011, I took a media tour of the city of Charlotte and its efforts to become a global hub for energy manufacturing. At that time, reporters learned of the state’s evolution from tobacco, textiles, and furniture to a new breed of companies: high technology, financial institutions, and world-class medical facilities. Investments in public education, infrastructure, and tax reform since the 1980s have enabled that progress.
As a result, North Carolina has a qualified workforce, ranging from skilled laborers to managers to engineers — essential if businesses enter the state and must fill thousands of openings. And success begets success, evidenced by the recent spate of groundbreakings and the national accolades.
The State Spent Decades Becoming an Overnight Success
CNBC named North Carolina its Top State for Business in 2022 and 2023. Last year, the state saw a record-breaking $19.3 billion invested and nearly 29,000 new jobs announced. That includes 30 foreign direct investment projects worth a combined $5.21 billion.
Ironically, North Carolina’s two U.S. senators opposed the Inflation Reduction Act and Build Back Better law, as did most of the state’s sitting members of the U.S. House. However, Chung downplays the significance of that by underscoring the current governor’s commitment to new energy and economic expansion.
To that end, the economic developer points out North Carolina increased its renewables production by nearly 52% between 2014 and 2019, double the average of all 50 states. The state ranks fourth nationwide for installed solar capacity, and it is the fifth largest producer of electricity from nuclear power in the U.S. It also is first in offshore wind energy potential on the East Coast, while it operates the largest wind farm in the Southeast U.S. with a 104-turbine farm to serve 61,000 homes annually.
It’s a recruitment tool. Take Wolfspeed, a silicon carbide semiconductor manufacturer: It will invest $5 billion and create 1,800 jobs in the state — one of the most significant capital outlays in North Carolina’s history. The state will see a $17.5 billion economic impact over the next 20 years.
Electric vehicles, 5G networks, and offshore wind use their microchips. The semiconductors allow those products to run more efficiently and use less energy.
Meantime, Forza X1, an electric-powered boat and motor manufacturer, is investing $10.5 million into a new facility and creating 170 jobs well-paying positions. The Ft. Pierce, Florida-based company builds recreational boats using lithium-ion batteries. And, Boom Supersonic will invest more than $500 million through 2030 in sustainable aviation, creating 2,400 jobs at an average pay of $68,000 annually — planes that fly at subsonic speeds over land and near coasts.
The Chips Act of 2022, the Build Back Better Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act “have accelerated investment timetables,” which may have taken five more years to materialize, says Chung. “We think this is positive.”
North Carolina spent decades preparing for this moment. Policymakers built up their professional and vocational educational schools, revised their regulatory regime, and expanded the Charlotte Airport and highway system — decisions made with foresight, allowing the state’s economy to evolve and attract modern-day businesses. It’s a potential model for other states, albeit petty politics and entrenched economic interests often pervade progress.