Several states are no longer in the running for a Toyota-Mazda auto manufacturing plant, but North Carolina is still a favorite pick among analysts.
A national survey of 70 site selection experts placed North Carolina as No. 2, behind only Texas, as the likely choice. Several consultants have said there’s a strong chance the state will be the top choice.
A selection is expected next year.
The project is supposed to create up to 4,000 jobs and a $1.6 billion investment in the production of 300,000 vehicles a year.
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Earlier this summer, state Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said the state was “having discussions with all the interested parties that would be involved with this project.”
This week, he would simply say he is optimistic.
Copeland’s assessment came in response to a question by state Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Rocky Mount, at a legislative committee meeting on Thursday. Bryant asked Copeland how much interest there is in the state’s four megasites – areas that have been designated by the state as locations with enough acreage, access to roads and utilities and workers to attract big operations.
“I’m hoping soon some of these megasites won’t be empty,” Copeland said, reminding her that he cannot talk specifics before deals are closed.
There are two megasites in Chatham County, one in Edgecombe County and one on the Guilford-Randolph counties border.
Economic development officials typically don’t comment in public about specific projects while they are still in negotiations.
But officials in several states, including Nebraska, Arkansas and Indiana, confirmed that they are no longer being considered for the plant. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Nebraska officials were informed that the state’s distance from the automotive supply chain and lack of a megasite with already connected utilities had taken it out of the running. Meanwhile, an economic development official in Indiana told The Northwest Indiana Times that the companies were looking mainly in Southern states.
Looking for signals
On Friday, Bryant said she knew that Copeland wouldn’t be able to talk in specifics.
“I was looking for signals or some sense from him what the horizon looks like for that kind of project,” she said. “I wanted to make sure it’s on the radar screen, and I know that it is.”
Bryant represents an area near the Kingsboro site in Edgecombe County. The site is about a 20-minute drive from a planned rail-to-truck terminal in Rocky Mount. Economic developers have promoted the site’s nearby access to the terminal, but CSX is now reported to be re-considering whether to build there.
Copeland cautioned legislators on Thursday not to focus solely on incentives when trying to bring jobs to the more disadvantaged parts of the state.
“I will say we shouldn’t stop with megasites and other sites we have,” he said. “It’s only real estate until the infrastructure is there. … It’s talent, infrastructure and incentives.”
Last month, Bloomberg reported that people familiar with the negotiations said the two companies want an incentive package of at least $1 billion.
North Carolina has several levels of potential financial incentives to attract companies large and small. The main incentive program, the Job Development Investment Grant, is structured to funnel money into the state’s more economically challenged counties, although Copeland acknowledged rural areas are still being shortchanged.
The state is divided into three tiers, which affects the amount of incentives available. The 40 most distressed counties are in Tier 1, the next 40 are Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed are Tier 3.
Chatham County’s two megasites are in Tier 3; one is near Siler City and the other at Moncure. The Guilford-Randolph site is in the northeastern part of Randolph County and is in Tier 2; the Kingsboro county is Tier 1.
▪ Grants for up to 12 years are based on a percentage of personal income tax withholding from new jobs that projects create. All of that money is returned to companies in Tier 1 counties.
Ninety percent is returned to companies in Tier 2 counties with the remaining 10 percent going to a fund for public water, sewer or gas lines. Seventy-five percent goes to companies in Tier 3 counties with 25 percent transferred to the infrastructure fund.
Other incentives are in place for the largest of projects.
▪ Companies that create 1,750 jobs and invest $500 million can receive grants for up to 20 years.
▪ Projects that bring in 5,000 jobs and $4 billion in investments – dubbed “transformative projects” – would be eligible for grant disbursements for up to 25 years.
The most visible transformative project in the works now is the bid to land a second headquarters for Amazon. The online retailing giant is promising 50,000 jobs and more than $5 billion in investments. More than 200 states and regions are vying for that project, including in North Carolina.