Top Triad economic developer sees multiple ripple effects from megasite projects | Local

The head of the Triad’s economic-recruitment group sees multiple ripple effects from recent developments at Carolina Core megasites.

With three of the region’s four megasites now with commitments, Mike Fox, president of Piedmont Triad Partnership, said it’s possible that more 1,000-acre-plus sites could be pieced together, though nothing is in an advanced stage currently.

However, would-be developers of new manufacturing sites would likely have to compete for land with others eager to meet housing demand from workers at existing megasites.

“To use a baseball analogy, we hit a home run with Toyota, Boom Supersonic and VinFast,” Fox said.

Those three companies, have announced plans, respectively, for the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, the PTI Aerospace site and Triangle Innovation Point in Chatham County. A fourth megasite, Chatham Advanced Manufacturing, is still available.

“But, we’ve always been focused on the singles, doubles and triples as well,” Fox said, citing examples of successful manufacturing and supply-chain recruitment efforts in Davidson and Davie counties on smaller industrial sites.

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“We’ve got more inventory in that (50- to 500-acre) range than you see in the Charlotte and Raleigh markets that are closer to the interstates,” Fox said. “You got to keep up doing that — 50, 100, 200 jobs are as important.

“The growth in those (projects) over the last 12 months has been tremendous as well.”

Fox said there are “definitely multiple serious interest from companies looking at the (Chatham Advanced Manufacturing) megasite and have been for months. Interest in all four sites has been elevated for years.”

Fox said it’s “not necessarily a cause-and-effect” from Toyota North America’s commitment in December to the VinFast’s decision last week.

“With multiple groups interested in one, if not all of the sites, it might be a matter of someone going first and others can follow quickly in taking a hard look so to not lose their opportunity at the other megasites since there’s a scarcity of them in North Carolina, much less in the country,” Fox said.

Fox said a common theme from Toyota and VinFast was being attracted to the state’s manufacturing workforce heritage, the business climate, higher education and socioeconomic advantages for potential employees.

Having a likely electric vehicle production and supplier cluster within a short distance of their plants also likely was a major plus for the megasites, Fox said.

Where the greater Carolina Core should benefit, Fox said, suppliers will want to be within a 30- to 40-minute range of the plants, but not next door so to avoid competing for potential workers.

As an example, Fox noted that suppliers to the BMW manufacturing plant in the Greensville-Spartanburg, S.C. metro area chose to be near the plant, but not necessarily next-door.

“That tends to be the sweet spot of where they want to be,” Fox said. “I think that will happen here, particularly with the EV supply chain.”

Fox said the supply chain for electric vehicles will have limited equipment overlap with traditional motor vehicle production, which means proximity to these plants will be pivotal.

Fox acknowledges there’s at least a possibility that someone from Forsyth County or the western Triad will be willing to commute 1½ to 2 hours to the VinFast plant scheduled to open in spring 2024, or 45 minutes to an hour to Toyota’s Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.

Yet, he said he’s convinced there will be an employment ripple effect from the two EV plants through increasing the pool of jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

Citing Randolph as an example, he said there are residents who commute to work in Forsyth, Guilford, Davidson and other neighboring counties.

“Some of those people will decide they want to work for Toyota and be closer to home,” Fox said.

“In those instances, that will free up more jobs for folks in those counties.

“That could be as big a benefit as any suppliers who locate in those counties.”