State paid $61 million for potential industrial site

Hope to lure electric vehicle maker
A part of the Bryan County megasite recently purchased by the state of Georgia to attract major economic development deals.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

A part of the Bryan County megasite recently purchased by the state of Georgia to attract major economic development deals.

The state of Georgia paid $61 million to purchase a huge undeveloped property near Savannah that officials hope may soon become home to an automotive factory.

The state and a local development authority partnered to acquire about 2,240 acres near the community of Ellabell in Bryan County from three separate sellers, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. All the deals closed on July 27.

The state will combine the land into a megasite intended for a single industrial user, state economic development commissioner Pat Wilson said in an interview. Gov. Brian Kemp recently formed an initiative to study the electric vehicle industry, but the megasite could be suitable for other industries, too.

“This kind of site is something you don’t come across every day,” Wilson said.

The property is worth the high price because its combination of strengths is found nowhere else in the state, Wilson said. It has a flat terrain that’s free of rocky soil. It also has direct connections by road and rail to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick.

The state has completed environmental and archeological studies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon transfer to the state a permit for building on or near wetlands.

“We have surveyed and analyzed every acre out there,” Wilson said.

The state has already begun marketing the Bryan County site, but Wilson declined to name the targets.

Georgia plans to aggressively pursue a new electric-vehicle factory planned by Rivian, an Irvine, California-based company, according to three people familiar with the matter. The state is pitching the Bryan County megasite as a potential location.

Other electric vehicle companies are expanding in Georgia, including South Korea’s SK Innovation, which is building a $2.6 billion EV-battery plant in Jackson County northeast of Atlanta.

Numerous smaller industrial parks are located near the new megasite that would be good locations for suppliers to a larger factory, said Trip Tollison, CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

The megasite sellers are individuals who live near the site, or family-controlled corporations. Butler Tract LLC sold the largest portion, about 1,370 acres, for $25.2 million, according to the sales contract. Samwilka Inc., a family corporation, sold 841 acres for $31.4 million. William B. Mock of Ellabell sold 26 acres for $2.6 million.

The state provided a grant to a four-county joint development authority to purchase the megasite. The land is held in the name of the joint development authority, but it will share decision-making authority with the state on selecting a user for the site.

Georgia is using proceeds from the recent sale of an industrial site in Chatham County to Amazon to pay for the megasite.

Two counties in the joint development authority, Bryan and Chatham, each contributed $9 million to the purchase price and will be reimbursed later. The other counties, Bulloch and Effingham, did not contribute to the purchase price. Georgia may later sell bonds to finance site-preparation work.