Youngkin halts talks on Ford EV battery plant near Virginia-North Carolina border over concerns of China’s influence

19 January 2023

DANVILLE, VA. (WGHP) – Ford’s planned electric vehicle battery manufacturing facility, similar to the one Toyota is building at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, might have provided even more jobs to the northern reaches of the Piedmont Triad if not for an apparent intervention by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Danville Register & Bee cited two sources Thursday in reporting that Ford had chosen a site near Danville in Pittsylvania County before Youngkin told the company that the state was withdrawing because he was concerned about Ford’s relationship with a Chinese manufacturer.

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin shakes hands with his cabinet before delivering his State of the Commonwealth to a joint session of the General Assembly in Richmond on Jan. 11, 2023. He said he was stepping away from a bid to lure Ford’s EV plant to Virginia. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

Ford said later Thursday in response to the newspapers’ report that it had not made an official decision between pitches from Virginia and Michigan.

The battery plant would have meant a $3.5 billion investment and about 2,500 jobs for a parcel at the Virginia Mega Site in Berry Hill, which is across the Dan River from Rockingham and Caswell counties in North Carolina and only slightly farther from Greensboro (about 41 miles) than Toyota’s site near Liberty (about 28 miles).

Youngkin withdrew the state because of what he said were concerns about the Chinese government’s influence and that federal tax incentives might benefit the Chinese Community Party, and on Wednesday he dismissed as “fundamentally wrong” the newspapers’ report that Ford had notified Virginia about its selection.

The Register & Bee and Times-Dispatch reported that in a telephone interview Youngkin told reporters that “what you’re writing is wrong. … The fact set that you are navigating around is fundamentally wrong, and I just wanted to be able to explain to you why.”

But the newspapers said that Youngkin did not answer repeated questions about whether Ford had chosen Virginia. It’s also unclear what incentives the state might have been discussing.

The facility, although owned by Ford, would have been operated by the Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL). Bloomberg News reported in mid-December that Ford and CATL were considering Michigan or Virginia. Ford would own the plant, and CATL would operate the factory and own the technology, Bloomberg reported.

About five days after that report, The Daily Caller, a conservative news website, reported that Youngkin was removing Virginia from consideration, and he said in his “State of the Commonwealth address” last Wednesday that “he feared the plant would be a front for Chinese influence,” the Times-Dispatch reported.

Ford is investing about $5.8 billion to build a similar facility south of Louisville, Ky., but that arrangement is in partnership with a Korean company, SK Group. That plant will employ about 5,000.

NC’s investments in EVs

By comparison, North Carolina’s recruitment of Toyota’s facility to the site near Liberty, first announced in December 2021, included a $1.3 billion investment by the company to bring 1,750 jobs with a median minimum salary of $62,234 by December 2026.

Greensboro-Randolph Megasite (File)

The state (no mention of the federal government) invested about $271.4 million in incentives. Then in June the new budget adopted by the state included another $225 million for Phase II of the project, which would bring about 3,875 more jobs and another $3 billion from Toyota by 2034.

Toyota Motor North America announced on Oct. 18, 2021, that it would begin production in 2025, starting with batteries for hybrid electric vehicles. Toyota said it would invest $3.4 billion in the U.S. through 2030.

North Carolina also since has provided $854 million in incentives to lure the Vietnamese EV manufacturer Vinfast – a $4 billion investment to bring 7,500 jobs at $51,096 – to Chatham County.

And the microchip manufacturer Wolfspeed is receiving nearly $800 million in incentives to build a facility near Siler City that would make the semiconductors used in EV charging stations. Wolfspeed would invest about $5 billion by 2030 and employ 1,802 at an average minimum salary of $77,753.

A spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Commerce told WGHP that the state doesn’t discuss conversations officials might have about the site locations of companies until after announcements are made. There is no indication NC pursued Ford.

Unhappy in Danville

Danville/Pittsylvania County is home to about 100,000 residents and is the site of the new casino and convention facility that Caesars is building and plans to open temporarily this year and permanently in 2024.

The Register & Bee said that Democrats in Virginia and Pittsylvania County were incensed by the decision by Youngkin, a Republican who has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2024. The area is represented in Congress by Rep. Bob Good, an extreme conservative and conspiracy theorist.

“This area has voted heavily and consistently Republican and voted for Youngkin, and to have that happen is disgraceful,” said Roy Ford, chair of the Pittsylvania County Democratic Committee, told the Register & Bee.

“During his campaign, the Governor made a promise to bring economic development and manufacturing jobs to our communities that are struggling — especially in rural Virginia — to attract industries that offer competitive wages,” state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) told the Register & Bee. “The Governor’s decision to pull Virginia out of the competition for the new Ford facility puts the Commonwealth at a severe disadvantage.”

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