British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover might consider North Carolina in the coming years as it looks to open a North American manufacturing facility, a British diplomat said.
Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, the United Kingdom's Atlanta-based consul general, was in Raleigh this week to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his country's North Carolina trade office. The Raleigh office is led by Hickory native Andrew Terrell, who's spent the past year hosting trade delegations and establishing relationships between British and American companies, North Carolina economic development officials, and the U.K. government.
Jaguar Land Rover could be a future target for North Carolina leaders looking to lure the state's first automaker, after losing out to Alabama this month in their bid for a new Toyota Mazda plant. While Toyota Mazda passed up North Carolina because it lacked the automotive supply chain available in Alabama, Pilmore-Bedford said that likely wouldn't be an issue for Jaguar Land Rover, which would be "starting from scratch" and bringing in its own suppliers.
"They will be less tied to that supply chain," he said. "That's potentially a very good opportunity for North Carolina to get into that industry."
Jaguar Land Rover had considered U.S. and Mexico locations for past expansions but opted to build factories in China and Slovakia instead.
North Carolina's trade relationship with the United Kingdom is currently dominated by pharmaceuticals, chemicals and aerospace products and parts. In 2016, North Carolina exported $1.3 billion in goods to the U.K. – up from $902 million in 2015 – making it the state's fifth largest export market, according to the British consulate. In 2017, the Port of Wilmington partnered with shipping companies to add the British port of Felixstowe as a direct connection.
The Raleigh trade office has allowed the British to get a foothold in North Carolina, having previously relied on Atlanta-based officials who cover six states. "It's really being accessible and on the ground," Terrell said. "I've traveled across North Carolina every single month. You have to engage at a state level."
When the office opened last year, some business leaders voiced concerns about the impact of Brexit – the U.K.'s departure from the European Union – on the trade landscape. Consulate officials said they expect that the U.S. will sign a new trade deal with the U.K. by 2021 with more favorable terms than what's in place now. "We certainly haven't had any of the post-referendum doom and gloom," Terrell said.