Other voices: A megasite jackpot for the entire region

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

In late 2019 and early 2020, Jim Melvin offered Triad journalists a personal tour of 1,900 acres of hills, woods and farmland formally known as the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.

Melvin, a former Greensboro mayor who is president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, had been a key player in the megasite’s creation.

And despite a recent setback in finding a tenant for the site, Melvin remained firmly convinced that it would pay off, sooner or later, and he wanted us to see up close what still excited him so much about it.

Then that first scheduled tour was postponed by bad weather.

As for the second attempt, well, by that time there was COVID.

What is it they say about best-laid plans?

Like those tours, the megasite itself had been a story of detours and delays, and even worse, hope and heartbreak.

Only nibbles

The site was assembled through regional cooperation as a ready-made magnet for new industry. Yet, there were nibbles, but no takers.

Then came a serious suitor that had seemed a sure thing. Melvin had been all but convinced that a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda electric car plant would locate there in 2018. So, pretty much, were we all. But the companies chose a site near Huntsville, Ala., instead.

We were all dressed up with nothing to show for it. Until now.

Toyota and Panasonic  confirmed that they will build a car battery plant on the site.

And while this is not the electric car plant we’d coveted, it’s a battery plant for electric cars that represents a $1.27 billion capital investment and pays well: an expected median annual salary of more than$62,000 for 1,750 jobs between 2025 and 2029.

It gains the Triad and the state a precious foothold in the auto industry and it has a future: Nearly a quarter of the cars Toyota now makes worldwide are electrified and it expects to sell as many as 1.8 million vehicles that are at least partially powered by electricity by 2030.

Long game payoff

The project rewards vision and foresight and the courage and patience it takes to play the long game in an era in which we want it all and we want it now.

And it’s a major win for the Triad, not just Greensboro and Randolph County.

“This project will anchor the entire 17-county Carolina Core region,” Loren Hill, the regional economic development director for the Piedmont Triad Partnership, told the Randolph commissioners Monday.

Or, as Greensboro City Council member Nancy Hoffmann put it: “Cities don’t have fences around them.” Nor should they.

Most of all, the good news about the investment validates the political and financial bets Randolph County commissioners, Greensboro and Guilford County government and community leaders and state officials made on the megasite in the first place.

Much like the Randleman Reservoir that supplies water to Greensboro, High Point and a host of other communities, this was a heavy lift with lots of moving parts.

But when opportunity finally knocked, they were ready.

So, apparently, is Piedmont Triad International Airport.

There’s word that another significant employer may be coming to the PTI Airport area — an aircraft manufacturer that may bring 1,750 more Triad jobs at an average annual wage of $60,000.

Another big project

The PTI Airport Authority also has been cobbling together nearby land to accommodate new industries. We may know more details later about the initiative, called “Project Thunderbird.”

That would be an additional balm not only to the pain of the Toyota-Mazda disappointment but the tens of thousands of Triad jobs lost to the declines of the tobacco, textile and home furnishings industries in the Triad since the 1990s.

If there’s an overarching theme to all of this, it’s that especially when times are hardest, you have to make your own luck.

The announcement about the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite was a healthy dose of strong medicine for the Triad economy. And, who knows? A booster shot may be following it soon at the airport.

— Winston-Salem Journal