CHARLESTON — State officials welcomed a clean-energy manufacturing plant to South Charleston on Wednesday, Jan. 12, one of a host of economic development announcements made during the first day of the 2022 legislative session in West Virginia.
GreenPower Motor Co., an industry leader in zero-emission heavy duty vehicles, will manufacture zero-emission, all-electric school buses in Kanawha County after reaching a deal with the state. The company expects to employ 900 people at full operation, and West Virginia will purchase a minimum of $15 million of GreenPower vehicles produced at the facility.
Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael, Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, joined GreenPower representatives for the announcement Wednesday morning outside the state Capitol, where officials stood in front of one of the big yellow school buses soon to be built in the area. Gov. Jim Justice planned to lead the event before testing positive for COVID-19 late Tuesday.
GreenPower President Brendan Riley said his company looked far and wide for a new manufacturing location and chose South Charleston and West Virginia based on the region’s storied energy industry. The Mountain State was once the heart of the coal industry, but the country’s energy transition has left many West Virginia coal communities in the rear view, Riley said. Core to his company’s mission is ensuring old energy communities can lead the future of new energy.
After visiting the state in August, Riley said West Virginia began to stand above the rest.
“It checked all the boxes that we had,” Riley said. “We agree with that concept — you go in those places (where coal declined). That’s where the transition has to begin.”
Combining traditional manufacturing work with a clean-energy vision, Riley said, helps soften the energy transition in regions where coal has long been king.
“We really think that the hearts and minds of the people do change,” he said. “They’re more receptive to (change), especially if they have been in the energy space and they’ve seen that declining. It provides a level of excitement among the people.”
South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said he received plenty of positive comments from residents Wednesday. The announcement was a long time coming, he said, with talks beginning around six months ago.
“You can already kind of feel the buzz even though it was just announced this morning,” Mullens said. “It’s one of those trendy businesses that has a great future, good-paying manufacturing jobs. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The building GreenPower will occupy is located behind South Charleston’s long-awaited Park Place shopping center. The building now houses Smith Fastener Co., Mullens said, and talks are underway for that company to move into an adjacent building.
Mullens said this is another development project residents can be proud of.
“It’s good for our community,” Mullens said. “We got a lot of great economic development projects going on in South Charleston right now. Our future is as bright as it’s been in a long, long time, and so I’m real excited about that.”
Also Wednesday, the Governor’s Office officially announced the investment his administration and lawmakers had teased since last week: a steel recycling facility in Mason County, along with incentives for North Carolina-based Nucor Corp. to build a second facility in the Northern Panhandle. The deal with Nucor is expected to create 800 jobs and spur up to $25 billion in economic activity over the next decade, according to a study from West Virginia University.
Also announced Wednesday was an expansion of an existing partnership between West Virginia University Medicine and Owens & Minor Inc., a leading global health care solutions company, according to a news release.
“As part of the updated partnership, Owens & Minor and WVU Medicine will work with the state of West Virginia to launch a health care products preparedness center in Morgantown that will create over 125 jobs,” the release reads. “The venture represents an approximately $50 million investment in health care for the state.”