Katie Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and I recently co-authored an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about cleantech manufacturing.
Georgia at the Epicenter of Nation’s EV Revolution
We are living in a watershed moment for cleantech manufacturing, and the state of Georgia has swiftly positioned itself to become the nation’s preeminent hub for electric vehicles.
Georgia’s emergence as a leader in EV manufacturing is especially meaningful as the industry continues to experience record-breaking growth and competition heats up to capture more jobs. The auto industry has already fundamentally changed. Sales of EVs nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021 and jumped another 65% in 2022. If this trend holds, more than half of the cars sold in the U.S. will be electric by 2030.
There is broad support for Georgia to lead these efforts, with an array of partners coming together to ensure we remain on the vanguard of the electrification shift. Three key players have already landed. Korea-based SK On started churning out EV batteries in Commerce last year and is partnering with Hyundai to build another factory in Bartow County. Last fall, Hyundai broke ground on its own $5.5 billion EV plant near Savannah and Rivian plans to build a $5 billion EV facility near Social Circle.
Rivian’s announcement in December 2021 kicked off a flurry of EV investments in Georgia. Since then, the cleantech companies flocking to our state have announced more than $21 billion of new investments. The emerging ecosystem includes charging infrastructure manufacturers like Heliox and EnviroSpark, clean battery manufacturers like FREYR and battery recyclers like Ascend Elements and Aurubis. Along with dozens more, these companies are creating a powerful, well-rounded mobility industry in Georgia.
Rivian chose an ideal location for its new plant. The site in Social Circle benefits from extensive interstate and rail systems with direct connections to the world’s busiest airport and the country’s third busiest seaport. The company will also be well-positioned to benefit from Georgia’s vast supply of diverse, educated talent. More than 550,000 students are enrolled in Georgia higher education institutions, including nearly 100,000 in the Technical College System of Georgia, where they learn the targeted skills that next-generation companies need.
Our state has the seventh largest higher education enrollment in the nation, with most of our students served by the University System of Georgia. And thanks to robust state appropriations and the second-most generous state financial aid in the nation (awarded through programs like the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships), net tuition at our public universities is the seventh lowest in the nation.
University research expenditures in Georgia are also now the eighth highest in the nation. Emory University, Georgia State University and the University of Georgia all spend more than $200 million each year and Georgia Tech has exceeded $1 billion each of the past two years. This growth in research is producing remarkable breakthroughs — not only in cancer treatment, cell-based therapy and vaccines, but also in batteries, motors, electronics and artificial intelligence, which are critical to the EV industry. This combination of talent, research and connectivity in a business-friendly environment is what truly sets Georgia apart in attracting new investments.
Together with companies like Qcells, which recently made Georgia the recipient of the country’s largest-ever investment in clean energy manufacturing, and other cleantech developments across the state, Rivian’s new facility promises transformative change. These projects will provide good jobs that carry over for decades, generating billions of dollars in salaries and tax revenue. They will help future-proof our communities. And by lowering our nation’s dependence on overseas energy producers and helping the world transition toward sustainable energy, their positive impact will resonate far beyond Georgia.
The leadership and partnerships in the state of Georgia play an indispensable role in attracting this kind of next-generation industry. Gov. Brian Kemp spent years bringing together public and private stakeholders to accelerate Georgia’s advancement in electric mobility and the effort is paying off. The Georgia Department of Education launched an Electric Vehicle Career Pathway to prepare high school students for jobs in the field. The Technical College System of Georgia is building curricula for a long-term talent pipeline specifically for mobility manufacturing. The University System of Georgia is creating new programs to better align with the growing needs of this industry. And our congressional delegation in Washington is advocating for Georgia’s national status as a leader in the new cleantech economy.
By attracting Rivian and other companies working to secure a cleaner and more prosperous future, Georgia is staking its claim in the cleantech economy. These investments will reap dividends for the people of this state many times over, advancing the prosperity — and sustainability — of our communities for generations to come.
Katie Kirkpatrick is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber. Ángel Cabrera is president, Georgia Institute of Technology.