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Georgia's Key Weapon In The EV Factory Battle Is Almost Out Of Bullets. It's Working To Reload

In quick succession earlier this year, Georgia landed two huge deals with automobile manufacturers Rivian and Hyundai Motor Group. Both of those planned factories will be located on what the state calls a megasite — land assembled, entitled and marketed by the state for game-changing economic development moves.

Georgia is in a battle with its Southeastern state neighbors to get major manufacturers to open large-scale facilities within their borders. State officials have focused their strategy for attracting these companies on megasites — which allow a company like Rivian to bypass months of sales negotiations and entitlement work to quickly get a plant up and running.

But its supply of these sites is almost out.

Part of the site being marketed by Georgia toward big industrial users and manufacturers in Peach County.

Earlier this month, Georgia, along with the Development Authority of Peach County, purchased a roughly 1,100-acre site in the center of the state, just south of Macon, that is being marketed as Georgia's latest — and only — megasite. Rivian and Hyundai's deals left Georgia without another official parcel to market.

While the state does market other sites that exceed 1,000 contiguous acres — widely viewed as the minimum size needed for modern manufacturing operations — those are owned by either local authorities and governments or private landlords, which makes them far less appealing to corporate prospects, who want to avoid protracted, public negotiations.

“Public ownership is one of those features. Behind the [tract] size, it's probably the most important one,” a state source familiar with the economic development process told Bisnow.

The state's purchase of Peach County's megasite comes as even more companies are scouring the Southeast for manufacturing locations to onshore more operations or jump into new technologies, such as electric vehicles, economic development experts say.

“These days, just as fast as you can get [sites] ready, they're being snapped up.  said Didi Caldwell, the founding principal of Global Location Strategies, a site selection consulting firm out of Greenville, South Carolina. "I don't see it abating at all." 

In December, Rivian selected a 2,000-acre megasite off Interstate 20 straddled by Morgan and Walton counties for a new electric vehicle plant. While the site is owned by the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp helped negotiate one of the state's largest incentive packages to land the EV maker.

Hyundai Motor Group in May announced plans to open a $5.54B EV vehicle and battery plant at the Bryan County Megasite, a nearly 3,000-acre tract off Interstate 16 near Savannah. Georgia and the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority purchased that site last summer for $61M, the Savannah Morning News reported.

For states that bank on these projects to bring in billions in new investments and thousands of new jobs, the stakes can be high. Georgia lost out on two plant projects, both of which looked at the site near Savannah that Hyundai ended up acquiring.

Caldwell said one $2.5B project she represented instead went to Alabama after Georgia declined to bid on it since it was in talks already with the South Korean automotive maker. The same thing happened with Vietnamese EV maker VinFast, which selected Raleigh, North Carolina, for a plant after it was turned away from Hyundai's site, a source with the state familiar with those talks told Bisnow.

The VinFast victory has been quickly followed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper proposing millions of dollars in the state's budget to develop more megasites, including $50M for local governments to acquire sites and another $50M to add infrastructure to those sites, the Triangle Business Journal reported.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp during the December 2021 announcement that electric vehicle maker Rivian plans to build a $5B plant in Georgia.

The Kemp administration is following suit, exploring other areas of the state to form megasites that could capture the next Rivian or Hyundai at a critical moment — manufacturers are increasingly looking back inside the U.S. after more than two years of supply chain disruption.

“We are always looking for opportunities to identify additional sites for economic development projects,” Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson told Bisnow in an email. "We’re regularly working alongside our state and local partners to make sure businesses seeking to locate or expand in Georgia have the support needed to be able to meet their goals — including securing land that may result in new opportunities."

Wilson didn't answer questions about where specifically the state was eyeing future megasites. 

Companies have picked sites that had no state involvement in the past. Kia Motors built its West Point plant on 2,000 acres that were not owned by the state.

Owners of four large tracts throughout Georgia are marketing their sites on the state's economic development database, including sites that are part of the Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development Program. The 60 industrial-certified sites, which are mainly owned by localities or private owners, have been fast-tracked for construction with entitlement procedures like zoning designations and environmental and utility assessments.

Those sites include Augusta Corporate Park in Richmond County with 1,725 acres, a 1,600-acre site in Milledgeville and a nearly, 2,000-acre tract called the Heart of Georgia Mega Site off I-16 in Dublin, Georgia, two hours north of Savannah.

“That is one thing that Georgia is blessed with is large amounts of land,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah who chairs the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Stephens said the recent economic development wins are likely motivating Kemp, who has trumpeted his economic victories during a critical election year, to create more state-backed megasites moving forward. Stephens said the governor was instrumental in securing Hyundai at the Savannah megasite.

“I believe we probably found that magic bullet, if you will, and the governor has done a good job in pulling all the departments together,” Stephens said. “I just don't see an end to this coming anytime soon. And I think you're going to see more megasites.”

Caldwell said her clients are having increasingly difficult times finding large parcels of land that entirely fit their needs in Georgia. Sites might be large enough, but they could fall short in others parts of the equation, from access to labor, topography issues or a lack of certain infrastructure.

“There is no such thing as a perfect site, so we've always had to make compromises. We just had to make more significant compromises today,” she said. “Quite frankly, there's not any state right now that's doing great when it comes to land because of all the deals that have been announced. Right now, I wouldn't know where to put a megaproject in Georgia.”