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Electric vehicle maker makes pitch to area chambers in Newton
From left, Rivian spokesperson Zach Dietmeier talks to plant opponent Alan Davis Jenkins as Rivian’s Laura Ewan talks to other attendees following the ‘Rivian Meet and Greet’ Tuesday, Feb. 22, at Crossroads Baptist Church in east Newton County. - photo by Tom Spigolon

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — Rivian officials made their pitch to chambers of commerce members from four counties Tuesday in eastern Newton County as they sought to short circuit the flow of “disinformation” about their electric vehicle production facility planned partially in Social Circle.

Company spokespersons Zach Dietmeier and Laura Ewan traveled from the company’s Normal, Illinois, facility to speak to the hundreds of members of the four chambers at the ‘Rivian Meet and Greet’ event at Crossroads Baptist Church on Georgia Hwy. 229 in the Brick Store community.

Other speakers included Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Mike Hopkins of the Newton County Water & Sewer Authority; and Debbie Harper of the Newton Chamber of Commerce.

Harper said the Newton chamber joined with chambers from Morgan, Jasper and Walton counties to organize the event.

It presented detailed information on Rivian’s plans for the industrial, research and training complex planned for a 2,000-acre site straddling the line between Morgan and Walton counties.

Hundreds have turned out at open meetings of the four-county Joint Development Authority (JDA) to vent their anger publicly about the plant. 

They also have actively posted on a Facebook community page and hired an attorney to find ways to kill the plan they say will endanger the groundwater and other parts of the environment in areas around the plant, as well as destroy their rural way of life.

Harper said the program was built around what chamber members “quickly realized” was “a lot of misinformation” being disseminated about the plant.

Company officials said Rivian is committed to partnerships with conservation groups and its plant being environmentally friendly.

They said the company selected the site because of its proximity to a variety of transportation options and quality of education in the area, among other factors.

A few members of the anti-Rivian group Our Communities Oppose Rivian Assembly Plant were allowed to attend after they appealed to the church’s pastor to allow them in the event reserved for chamber members only, a group spokesperson said.

Some attendees remained to discuss the company’s plans with the speakers after the event.

One attendee complained to Wilson after the event that he was worried about its effect on area businesses who may lose employees to the new employer in a tight labor market. 

The plant will produce Rivian vehicles and is expected to create 7,500 jobs starting at about $56,000 each. 

The JDA and its four member counties earlier this week asked the state to take the lead on bringing Rivian to the area and claim title to the site.

The move will erase the need for local governments to conduct public hearings on zoning and other controversial measures.

Wilson told county leaders a “robust public advisory process” would be undertaken and four committees would be created on Workforce Development, Local Business Engagement, Site Design and Environmental, and Civic Engagement, Public Benefits and Land Conservation.

At the Tuesday event, Wilson told The Covington News the state undertook a similar operation when Kia announced its production facility in West Point in the 2000s. He said it provides more staffing than was available to the JDA to prepare for development of the massive site.

“Credit to the JDA — they’ve done a great job of organizing this project,” he said. 

Wilson said the plant will help the long-term economic health of the area that includes Newton County.

He noted 55,000 are employed in Georgia jobs related to production of gas-powered vehicles.

“This is an opportunity to get the jobs of the future,” he said.