SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — Some area residents blasted an electric vehicle maker on social media this week after they complained no one from a Morgan County-based opposition group was invited to a “Community Appreciation Event” on Saturday at Georgia State University’s Newton campus.
But James Chen, vice president of public policy for Rivian Inc., said the event was the first in a series of “interactions with the community” and part of the company’s effort to show what it is doing “with the community, not to the community.”
Rivian hosted a Georgia Community Appreciation Event Saturday that drew hundreds throughout the day to GSU’s Perimeter College-Newton campus near Social Circle.
It featured chances to meet top company officials, see displays of the company’s vehicles’ technology, find out about Rivian’s plans for its area production facility, and drive in some electric vehicles produced at its plant in Illinois.
However, after the weekend event, The News learned the appreciation event was invitation-only.
The event was meant to thank those who have supported the company such as economic development professionals, local business leaders and elected officials, and others, along with their friends and family, a spokesperson said.
A small number of preorder holders from the area were also invited to attend, the spokesperson said Tuesday.
Some local elected officials and business leaders, including the mayors of Social Circle, Rutledge and Madison, were among those invited.
The California-based company announced in December it planned to build its second U.S. electric vehicle production and research facility in Georgia on 2,000 acres straddling the line between Walton and Morgan counties on the north side of I-20. A number of local elected officials and business leaders, including the mayors of Social Circle and Madison, were among those invited.
State officials recently disclosed $1.5 billion in state and local incentives were given to the company to locate on the site — with the company in turn saying it planned to employ up to 7,500 at starting wages of around $56,000.
Opposition to the plan organized quickly in recent months.
Residents — mostly from Morgan County — loudly protested or gave emotional testimonies about what they alleged would be harmful effects on their drinking water and environment as they spoke in public meetings.
Newton County deputies manned the entrance to Saturday’s event and organizers checked IDs to see if those entering were pre-registered.
Rivian Inc. founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe told The News the company is trying to create “the right forum for discussions” about the plant’s construction.
“I think the vast majority of communities are incredibly excited to have us here,” he said.
“It’s been great spending time with them understanding, as we think about the site, how do we include feedback, how do we make sure it’s contemplating its impact on the area. We’re spending a lot of time doing that,” Scaringe said.
Scaringe also said in a recent call with investors that the plant would be the production facility for its new R2 SUV that will be more economically priced than its current vehicles.
“The R2 has always been part of the plan but we had to find the right facility, the right location,” he said Saturday.
Opponents on Facebook made clear their displeasure with the low-key nature of the event.
Rhiannon L. Townley wrote that, “‘Community event’ should be used loosely here.
“We saw the test drives going on and tried to find said community event — we were met with a check-in blockade complete with NC sheriff deputies to make sure only those registered entered.
“They made us turn around and leave. Doesn’t seem like the community was invited.”
Cay Coarsey Dyle referred to the company’s recent disclosure it lost $1.5 billion in this year’s first quarter, and that water for the plant would come from Newton County.
“Great photo op to calm their investor. Rutledge wasn’t invited. Newton, who is the water boy for this project, was there.”
Faith Peppers said, “I’m a double Ga. State alumni, my daughter is a student on the Newton campus, I live five miles away and wasn’t informed or invited.
“This isn’t a ‘community event,’ it’s a government sponsored welcome party for special guests.”
Debbie Crowe, a frequent public speaker in opposition to the plant, said, “I own property next door to this site. I did NOT receive an invite!”
“Why the hell not if they want to be good neighbors??? Answer me that Scaringe.
“You only inviting and talking to people who support you and your darned trucks? I say you are not wanting to be a good neighbor — since you are ignoring those who live next door to this site. None of this is even in Newton County!!!”