By TAYLOR BECK and TOM SPIGOLON
ATLANTA — One of the industrial recruiters who helped lure electric vehicle maker Rivian to the Social Circle area believes the 2,000-acre site’s “unique attributes” and “abundant” electric resources helped sell it to the company.
Rivian Inc. announced Thursday it will build its second U.S. production facility and create up to 7,500 jobs in the yet-undeveloped Stanton Springs North business park at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 278 and I-20.
Serra Hall is one of two chief industrial recruiters for the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties (JDA), which manages Rivian’s future site.
She said Stanton Springs “just had unique attributes, and I think, one, [is] geographically being close to Atlanta is a huge driver.”
“The ability to have the workforce that’s right here in Atlanta and the university systems is really a key driver,” she said.
“Not only that, but Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is very close,” she said. “The one thing, though, is that we’re not as close to the ports, but at the same time, we have an amazing rail system of CSX that really brings that in.
“So, I think that we’re vastly different. I think we’re unique, and that site is a phenomenal site for a unique user, just like Rivian is unique to us.”
During a ceremony Thursday at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Gov. Brian Kemp said Rivian will invest $5 billion in the facility — making it the single-largest economic development project in state history.
“This single investment — the largest in state history — represents the future of automotive manufacturing and establishes the leading role the Peach State will play in this booming industry for generations to come,” Kemp said.
JDA Chairman Jerry Silvio, a Newton County resident, told the crowd at Thursday’s ceremony it was “the project of the century.”
“Stanton Springs and the great state of Georgia are the perfect place for this adventure to begin,” Silvio said.
He thanked Rivian Chief People Officer Helen Russell for “another opportunity” — in reference to companies that located in Stanton Springs South in recent years.
Stanton Springs South includes original tenant Takeda, a pharmaceutical production and research company; Facebook, which will operate data centers there; and an as-yet unnamed company designated with the name Baymare.
Silvio said the JDA began in 1999 “with the goal of creating high-tech, regional-focused jobs for generations to come,” he said.
JDA’s “dynamic duo” economic development directors, Hall and Shane Short of Walton County, and Authority attorney Andrea Gray had a “dedication and steadfast focus” that ensured “this vision is met and exceeded,” Silvio said.
Russell said the company wants the facility be environmentally friendly.
She also said the company was looking for the “best possible talent.” Open job postings in Georgia will be immediately available at www.rivian.com/careers, she said.
Construction is expected to begin in summer 2022 and the start of production is slated for 2024, a news release stated.
Once manufacturing operations are fully ramped up, the Georgia facility will be capable of producing up to 400,000 vehicles per year, officials said.
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes said Thursday’s announcement was “an amazing day” for Newton County and the four-county region.
“This is going to have such an impact, from jobs to when they get ramped up,” said Banes, who is a member of the JDA.
“Not only that but even the process of building this — it’s going to be amazing,” he said. “The infrastructure it’s going to bring, it’s going to change Stanton Springs forever.
“This is amazing. You got this to go along with Facebook … we’re blessed in our community, so we’re just thankful to Rivian for choosing our community.”
He added the county and development authority were “looking forward to a couple more announcements” in the future
“So, we’re just excited,” Banes said.
Much of the site is within the city of Social Circle, and Mayor David Keener said he also was “excited about it.”
“I’m glad today has come,” Keener said. “We’ve kind of been living under the rumor mill for a while now. People don’t understand that a big property like this, you can’t just discuss it. Most of the elected officials involved were under non-disclosure agreements. There have been suspicions for a long time.
"But I’m glad it’s official today. We can move forward and talk about the good things.”
District 112 State Rep. Dave Belton, a Morgan County resident whose district includes the Rivian site, said he had “hoped to bring jobs to Morgan and Newton counties” when he was elected in 2014.
“We’re doing that,” he said.
“I think people want jobs. They want opportunities for their children so they don’t have to move away. They can actually work and live in Morgan and Newton counties and raise a family. So, I’m excited about this.”
Hall, who also is executive director of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, helped recruit Facebook and grocery store operator Lidl, among others, to the county.
She said she was “ecstatic” about Rivian choosing the Stanton Springs North site.
“This is a company that I’m thrilled with and I know for generations to come will be amazing for our community and the state of Georgia — I can’t say enough,” she said.
“It really adds to the ecosystem of amazing, stellar companies coming to Georgia. We’re really proud of this and I think it fits in nicely with our other (companies) here in Stanton Springs,” Hall said. “It really is incredible.”
Hall said she was contacted earlier this year about the company possibly locating in the Stanton Springs area.
She admitted officials did not know the magnitude of the project when first contacted.
“We did not have an understanding of the project,” Hall said.
She said the site was well-planned with utilities already available, which helped sell Rivian on the location.
“We can’t say enough about Mike Hopkins and the Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority team because they really have made a lot of things happen and made it unique for any kind of prospect.”
However, she said nothing has been finalized about which utility providers would serve the Rivian facility.
The JDA is still working to secure agreements with providers for the site “but we hope for the same structure that is within Stanton Springs South,” she said.
Such entities as Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority, Snapping Shoals EMC, Walton EMC and the city of Social Circle have provided utilities in the past to Stanton Springs South.
Hall said gas providers may be a combination of cities of Covington, Social Circle and Madison.
“You don’t find that regional approach [in other places], but that’s the regional approach that’s happening right now in Stanton Springs South and will continue in Stanton Springs North,” she said.
She said electric service will be selected in a bidding process.
“Electric is abundant out at the site, and they have a bid system, so we’ll be able to see bids coming in from Georgia Power, Walton EMC, and even a MEAG community with the city of Covington.
“So we’re really thrilled by that and thrilled to have the opportunity to offer an abundance of resources.”
Keener said he hoped Social Circle would be chosen for some or all of the services needed for the facility, including fire, police and utilities.
Hall also said officials have not determined if Rivian will take all available land in the park.
“At this time, we’re still working on site layout,” she said.
She said there was a possibility ancillary businesses, such as parts suppliers, could also locate in the area.
“What I can say at this time is that the project is still developing, and so each day we’re still working to understand what that total footprint looks like and also what type of pieces,” she said.
“What I can tell you is that Rivian’s coming to town, and Rivian is making their mark here in east of Atlanta in Stanton Springs North, and the first part of this project is about 2,000 acres and creating 7,500 jobs.”
Hall predicted Rivian will be a good corporate citizen for the area because of what it already has done in its first location in Illinois.
The startup company took over a shuttered Mitsubishi production facility in Normal, Illinois, and helped reinvigorate central Illinois’ economy.
“I think that’s something that’s a driver for us, and Covington and Newton County, Morgan County, Jasper County and Walton County are the right place for you to be,” she said.
REACTIONS TO POSSIBLE IMPACT
Some area residents have opposed the facility’s construction because of its potential impact on natural resources and the area’s primarily rural nature.
Keener said city officials “realize there will be a population growth.”
“We want to call that smart growth and control it,” he said.
“There are some people who are against this. You always have people who don’t want it in their backyard, so to speak,” Keener said. “We’re respectful of the property owners there.”
Hall said she anticipates “some community town halls coming soon in the new year” about the facility.
“I think we’ll see a lot of community activism already come out, so we’re excited to announce this today to get that ball rolling,” she said.
“And that’s one of the reasons why we felt it was such a strong company to come into the community,” she said. “It was their focus on our local communities and what they’ve been able to do in the past, and so that’s critical and I think it’s going to be really good, and a lot of stuff will come into the new year, and so we’re excited to see that.”
Belton said he was glad the facility will “be very environmentally friendly.”
“They’re going to do things the right way and we’re going to be very proud of this facility,” Belton said.
He said Takeda Pharmaceuticals has operated in Stanton Springs South for years and created 2,500 jobs without “a huge disruption to life around Morgan and Newton counties.”
“So, it’s really up to the local leaders to make sure that we do the zoning correctly and build the way we want our community to look, and as long as they do that we’ll be fine,” Belton said.
“This is good growth,” he said. “And these people [Rivian] they want good growth, too … I guarantee they want it to be a good partnership as much as we do.”
Georgia Quick Start will build and operate a state-of-the-art manufacturing training center that will provide Rivian with a fully customized training program that meets the company’s start-up needs, state officials said.
“This will also build capacity and curricula within the Technical College System of Georgia to maintain a long-term pipeline of highly skilled employees who are trained specifically in these operations,” they said.
Keener said he anticipated the new plant’s workers would bring more students to the city’s school district — which already had planned to build a replacement facility for one of its schools.
“I think they’re prepared ... for the growth,” he said. “There are good days ahead of us.”