Search for automaker may finally succeed

Published 1:00 am Friday, January 18, 2008

By Staff
Eastern North Carolina could get a solid financial shot in the arm if Volkswagen decides to build a new plant in Nash County.
The story, which initially appeared in a Detroit trade magazine on Saturday, indicated that VW hopes to build a large plant somewhere in the Southeast and have it producing cars no later than 2011, according to the Rocky Mount Telegram. Nash County, it seems, is a contender to be the future home of that plant.
The impact goes far beyond the 2,000 to 2,500 new jobs that would be created. Those are jobs that could easily be filled by Washington residents. Washington is only about an hour’s drive from Rocky Mount. It’s even closer for residents of Williamston.
What should have local economic development officials excited is the prospect of landing one or more of the dozens of related industries that sprout up to support a major auto plant. Those could easily be located in this area to support a plant in Nash County.
The German auto company reportedly needs at least 1,000 acres for the project, and it hopes to immediately get to work, according to the Telegram. Volkswagen is considering locations in Georgia, Anderson, S.C., Nash County and one other unnamed North Carolina location, the Automotive News report said. The auto group hopes to move quickly in a location where land already is available.
The Nash County site seems to fit each of those criteria, according to the Rocky Mount newspaper.
The Rocky Mount Metropolitan Statistical Area is home to 144,864 people. About 92,223 live in Nash County alone.
When Honda blazed new ground by building an auto plant in 1982 in Marysville, Ohio, people weren’t sure what to think. Now, 25 years later, 10,000 people work at the complex.
North Carolina has long tried to lure an auto maker to its confines.
And, although a few potential locations have been named, land in Nash County already appears to be in play. A deal for a 1,022-acre parcel — located directly adjacent to Interstate 95 on N.C. 33 in Whitakers — is scheduled to close later this month. The property is part of 1,668 acres of active farm land marked as a certified industrial site by the Carolinas Gateway Partnership in 2003.
Bonnie Howard, a real-estate agent with First Wilson Properties, did confirm, however, that a buyer has offered roughly $10 million for the 1,022-acre parcel owned by Bill Bone, according to the Telegram. She would not disclose information about the potential buyer, though.
An unnamed automotive insider told Automotive News that VW might be the buyer.
VW’s U.S. operations head Stefan Jacoby told reporters at the Detroit Auto Show on Monday that the automaker is indeed interested in building a plant somewhere in the South and hopes eventually to double U.S. sales.
VW would need to make a final decision on the location no later than June, Jacoby said.
A Nash County site would place the manufacturing plant midway between VW’s future corporate headquarters in Herndon, Va., and a cluster of suppliers around BMW’s Spartanburg, S.C., plant.
In the case of another German automaker, BMW, its venture in South Carolina has been a big financial investment. From 1992 through June of last year, the company has invested $3.3 billion in the Palmetto State. Payroll in the period from 1993 through last year amounted to $3.7 billion. Nobody is saying that a VW plant would produce the same impact, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.