A $5B electric truck factory hits roadblocks in rural Georgia

Opponents lambast tax incentives, potential pollution; defenders hail economic boon, jobs, green technology

Former Senator David Perdue, Governor Brian Kemp and Rivian's RJ Scaringe (Getty)
Former Senator David Perdue, Governor Brian Kemp and Rivian's RJ Scaringe (Getty)

A $5-billion electric truck factory proposed for rural Georgia has hit political headwinds.

California’s Rivian Automotive unveiled plans in December for a 2,000-acre factory east of Atlanta that would create 7,500 jobs and crank out 400,000 emissions-free trucks a year, the New York Times reported. Now it’s mired in a partisan battle.

On one side are the EV start-up and state Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican who championed the factory as an economic boon that would put Georgia at the forefront of the green economy.

Critics aim to block Georgia’s biggest economic development project by staging rallies, citing conspiracies and even threatening local officials. Some say the factory will contaminate groundwater, while others point to lucrative public incentives offered to Rivian. Many say the factory will mar the area’s bucolic character, increase light pollution, snarl traffic and spur more development.

The fuss has even infected Georgia’s gubernatorial race. Opponents have set their sights on Kemp, who is up for re-election this year, and found an ally in former Sen. David Perdue, who is running against Kemp in the primary.

Perdue says the truck plant is a bad fit for the community and accused Kemp of selling out to special interests. He also invoked George Soros, the wealthy Democratic donor and lightning rod for conservatives, whose hedge fund owns $2 billion of Rivian shares.

“We can grow the economy without selling out and giving our tax dollars to people like George Soros,” Perdue said at a recent rally. “We can invest in rural Georgia without kicking our communities to the curb.”

Others expressed concern that Rivian, whose stock price has plunged since it went public in November with a valuation of almost $70 billion, may go belly up and leave the community with a vacant industrial site. Another beef is the $125 million incentive package the state is offering, plus hundreds of millions in state and local tax breaks.

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“If they’re going to give $125 million to a California corporation, I should get that same option as a small-business owner,” said Chas Moore, a partner in an auto repair shop. “The government should not be picking winners and losers in private industry.”

Representatives for Kemp and Rivian said they’re sensitive to the community’s concerns and say the site selection and incentive package had been properly done. Worry about the factory’s impact on the environment is misplaced and that the community should be celebrating the arrival of new clean economy jobs, said James Chen, a Rivian spokesman.

Chen said Rivian planned to mitigate its impact on the area, including using recycled water rather than well water for its manufacturing, minimizing light pollution and blending buildings into the landscape.

“This is about an American company leading in technology and innovation,” he said. “We’re a green company and we want to do this in a green way.”

Construction of the Rivian factory is set to begin near the town of Rutledge this summer. The company expects to begin producing trucks there in 2024.

[New York Times] – Dana Bartholomew

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