Monday, March 4, 2024

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Two companies connected to electric car production said to be considering Alamance sites

Two manufacturers involved in the production of electric car components are reportedly casting their headlights on a publicly-sponsored industrial park in the Hawfields area between Mebane and Graham.

The Alamance News has learned that these two anonymous companies have been reconnoitering property in, or around, the North Carolina Commerce Park, which Alamance County established more than a decade ago in collaboration with the municipal governments in Mebane and Graham.

One of the park’s potential newcomers reportedly has its sights trained on a substantial chunk of the park’s vacant property, while the other, which is scouting out land just beyond the park’s bounds, could develop a facility that would dwarf anything currently inside the park.

Although still very much in the formative stages, these proposed projects would apparently be colossal even by the standards of the commerce park, which is already home to several large distribution centers operated by Walmart, Lidl, Amazon, and UPS.

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Yet, unlike most of the park’s current facilities, which are disproportionately devoted to distribution and warehousing, both of the prospective new industries are said to involve manufacturing. This category has been especially coveted by the park’s founders inasmuch as manufacturing plants tend to have higher property tax values than warehouses (thanks, in part, to the expensive, specialized equipment that they contain).

If either of these companies ultimately decides to plug in to this corporate park, it would add Alamance County to the list of jurisdictions in this part of the state that have proven fertile ground for the electric car industry.

The first spark in this sector’s deepening romance with the Central Piedmont was ignited in December of 2021 when Toyota announced that it would construct a multi-billion-dollar factory for electric car batteries at an industrial megasite in northeastern Randolph County. Since its inception, this project has steadily ballooned to its current proposed investment of nearly $14 billion and roughly 5,000 employees.

Mere months after Toyota first articulated its plans for this facility, a Vietnamese startup called VinFast announced plans for its own manufacturing plant at a Chatham County megasite. Like its counterpart in Randolph County, this $4 billion facility, with its proposed workforce of 7,500, is located tantalizingly close to the southern border of Alamance County.

With these two ventures setting up shop so close to home, local officials have been slavering over the prospect of industrial spillover from the two megasites. Yet, the companies now eyeing the Hawfields community would apparently bring more than just scraps to Alamance County.

The promise of a real, king-sized catch has already Alamance County’s leaders scrambling to chum the waters for these latest exponents of the electric vehicle market.

Last Wednesday, the county’s board of commissioners held a special-called meeting to discuss how to reel in these two manufacturers with representatives from the local chamber of commerce. This 90-minute confab, which took place entirely behind closed doors, also touched on a request for an employment contract that apparently came from county attorney Rik Stevens. But the focus of this closed meeting appeared to be the two corporate developments – with their eye-popping potential investments and the cache of high-tech manufacturing jobs.

Either of these two proposed production facilities would, moreover, be something of a game changer for the North Carolina Commerce Park, which is currently dominated by distribution and warehousing.

The county originally launched this corporate park in tandem with the cities of Mebane and Graham in order to attract a massive distribution center that Walmart was looking to build in 2012. To this end, the three local governments decided to invest in the public utilities needed to support such a facility within the agrarian Hawfields community that lay between Mebane and Graham’s municipal limits. The state also anted up for this cause with a pledge to build a new access road to serve the new warehousing complex.

In the meantime, the three local governments began to line up commitments with private property owners so that the new corporate park could be expanded well beyond Walmart’s proposed distribution center. They ultimately struck an agreement to share the expense of this venture and to split the property tax revenue that it may eventually generate.

In the end, the three local governments managed to piece together a 1,200-acre development zone within the Hawfields community. Bounded by Trollingwood-Hawfield Road, Governor Scott Farm Road, and Cherry Lane, this area would go on to attract the proposed Walmart’s distribution center as well as similar facilities that serve Amazon and the German grocery chain Lidl.

Warehousing has, so far, been the bread and butter of this inter-jurisdictional development. But all that could change if the corporate park manages to attract either of the two projects that the commissioners discussed in their private huddle last Wednesday.

The Alamance News has learned that only one of the proposed manufacturing facilities would be located within the commerce park’s bounds. The other plant would be situated on land just outside the 1,200-acre zone.

One potential site for this plant is a 69-acre parcel that stretches from Kimrey Road to NC Highway 119. This now-vacant tract is already zoned for industrial use and is, moreover, being marketed by the N.C. Commerce Department as the future home of a shell building with 785,000 square feet of floor space.

Earlier this year, Governor Roy Cooper announced that the North Carolina Commerce Park is soon to be home to Sunlight Batteries USA Inc., which already has a large manufacturing operation in Greensboro.  The 134,000 square foot building across from the Walmart Distribution Center will be home to 130 new jobs.  The company will invest $40 million in the project, the governor announced.  The company – a subsidiary of a large technology company headquartered in Athens, Greece – makes lithium-ion and other high-performance batteries.

This 134,000-square-foot building in the Hawfields-area industrial park will be the future home for Sunlight Batteries USA

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