Agreement sheds new light on Rivian incentives and site plans

New details on $1.5B Rivian incentives and site plans spur debate
An artist's rendering shows the exterior of Rivian's manufacturing campus planned for a site about 45 miles east of Atlanta.

Credit: Rivian

Credit: Rivian

An artist's rendering shows the exterior of Rivian's manufacturing campus planned for a site about 45 miles east of Atlanta.

RUTLEDGE — A day after Georgia leaders unveiled a record-breaking package of state and local incentives to attract Rivian, new details about the pact and plans for the 2,000-acre tract an hour east of Atlanta came into clearer focus as opponents stepped up their criticism.

The details of the $1.5 billion package of tax breaks, free land and other inducements were disclosed late Monday in public documents and a community meeting that shed light on what the California-based company’s sprawling $5 billion campus could look like.

State officials presented the agreement as a new phase in what Gov. Brian Kemp describes as the largest economic development project in Georgia history, with promises to create 7,500 high-paying manufacturing jobs and establish the state as an EV hub.

“We are moving ahead,” Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson said in an interview. “Moving ahead has never been in question. But this is the final document that binds the three parties together — the state, the (local development authority) and the company.”

Local opposition leaders, meanwhile, sharpened attacks against the Rivian plant. At a rally Tuesday in the town of Rutledge, near the future factory site, opponents worried the new plant would upend the rural community, spawn more traffic and lead to a labor crunch.

“I get no tax breaks from the state for my business and I don’t think they should either,” said Gail Wilson, a Rutledge resident and business owner.

They were joined by former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Kemp’s chief rival in the May 24 GOP primary. Surrounded by anti-Rivian signs, Perdue repeated his opposition to the project, which he blasted as an election-year giveaway of taxpayer dollars.

About $200K per job

Kemp and Rivian in December confirmed plans for the factory along I-20 in southern Walton and Morgan counties. The company has said it hopes to begin production of batteries and its electric trucks, SUVs and delivery vans in 2024.

The state stepped in to take over development of the Rivian plant after grassroots opposition to the project threatened to derail the project.

A map shows the site plan for Rivian's future EV manufacturing campus in Georgia. The company has agreed to leave more than 50% of the site's acreage unpaved.

Credit: Rivian

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Credit: Rivian

The agreement between a local development authority for the four-county area, the state and Rivian spells out incentives that include some $700 million in local tax breaks, as well as tax credits from the state for jobs created and certain investments and a new I-20 interchange and other road improvements.

Rivian could receive incentives valued at about $200,000 per job if it meets its full promises. That’s a similar figure to the inducements offered to Kia in 2006; though adjusted for inflation, the per job value for Kia was about 43% greater.

If Rivian fails to deliver on at least 80% of its promised jobs and investment by the end of 2028, the company is subject to claw back provisions on a portion of the incentive package. The state says Rivian must maintain its 80% commitment through 2047.

”The signed agreement requires Rivian to comply with a 25-year claw back period and is among the strongest the state has ever secured,” the state said in an executive summary of the incentive package.

Local governments and schools are providing the largest portion of the incentive package, but Rivian is expected to pay more than $300 million to those governments over 25 years. Critics say the taxpayers got the raw end of the agreement.

“Georgia taxpayers will never break even on this deal,” said Greg LeRoy, who runs Good Jobs First, a left-leaning incentives watchdog group.

Others say the massive investment will pay off. Fred Perriman, mayor of nearby Madison, said Rivian jobs will help ensure the survival of the area’s small towns.

“For young families who can’t find a good, stable job,” he said. “I think this is going to be good and I think that’s what we have to stay focused on.”

Preparing for construction

The state has already filed applications with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a federal wetlands permit, which are needed to ensure the plant causes minimal impact to streams and wetlands. The review of those permits could take between six and nine months.

Rivian will leave more than half of the proposed factory site unpaved, according to the terms of the agreement, which outlined $7.4 million in spending for wetland mitigation.

Location of Rivian's $5 billion electric vehicle factory east of Atlanta. The company’s site, about 2,000 acres along I-20 between the towns of Social Circle and Rutledge in southern Walton and Morgan counties, is about an hour’s drive from Atlanta and can pull from the metro area’s talent pool to fill its 7,500 planned jobs.

Credit: ArLuther Lee

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Credit: ArLuther Lee

Before building in areas that recharge aquifers, the company also agreed to conduct more hydrologic studies to protect groundwater supplies. The company must also comply with tree ordinances and consult with nearby Hard Labor Creek Observatory about its outdoor lighting plans to minimize impacts on stargazing.

A public meeting held Monday night in Monroe sought to ease environmental concerns.

The meeting was sparsely attended and more subdued than one held on April 18 when upset residents blasted Rivian and state leaders for project secrecy.

State maps show the area has low susceptibility to groundwater contamination, the chief of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Watershed Protection Branch Anna Truszczynski said at Monday’s meeting.

050222 Monroe: Wayne Haynie (right), chief engineer Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority, and local residents listen to presentations by the Site Design and Environmental Committee on the planned $5 billion Rivian electric vehicle plant during the second public meeting on Monday, May 2, 2022, in Monroe.    “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The factory will also need to obtain a separate water quality permit from the state, and Truszczynski said Georgia EPD received the company’s application on Monday. Rivian’s plant may also need additional water, air and hazardous waste permits.

In the meantime, grading of land that does not include protected streams and wetlands could start this summer, the state’s development agency has said.

State officials said two public meetings on the Rivian site’s design and environmental impacts scheduled for May 18 and May 25 will likely be postponed until June to allow state and federal agencies more time to review water permit applications.

A note of disclosure

Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owns about a 4% stake in Rivian and supplies services to the company. Sandy Schwartz, a Cox executive who oversees the AJC, is on Rivian’s board of directors and holds stock personally. He does not take part in the AJC’s coverage of Rivian.