Georgia’s incentive package for $5B Rivian plant likely largest-ever

Georgia put together what is expected to be the largest incentive package in state history to lure the $5 billion Rivian plant and its promise of generating thousands of well-paying jobs for the state’s growing electric-vehicle industry.

While Gov. Brian Kemp and others won’t publicly detail the extent of the state and local perks that helped land the Rivian facility, senior officials say the package will far surpass the more than $400 million that Georgia offered Kia Motors 15 years ago to win a smaller project in West Point.

Beyond tax breaks and abatements, which will account for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of incentives, the package is said to also involve infrastructure improvements that could include a new interchange on I-20.

State officials confirmed a workforce training center will be built near the plant, which will be constructed at the East Atlanta Mega Site about an hour’s drive from the city. Specially designed high school courses will also be set up for students seeking careers in the industry.

And legislators are likely to debate significant changes designed to bolster Rivian and other electric vehicle manufacturers, though passage in an election-year legislative session is far from certain.

Kemp, who helped seal the agreement with Rivian, has not yet outlined the specific package, which is set to be formally released within weeks.

But he and other officials have maintained what officials from both parties often say after a mammoth deal is struck: It was Georgia’s talented workforce, quality of life and pro-business reputation that helped cement the agreement — and that incentives were just a sweetener.

caption arrowCaption
Guests look at a Rivian R1T truck during a Dec. 16 press conference announcing that the electric-vehicle makerplans to build a $5 billion assembly plant and battery factory in Georgia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Guests look at a Rivian R1T truck during a Dec. 16 press conference announcing that the electric-vehicle makerplans to build a $5 billion assembly plant and battery factory in Georgia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Guests look at a Rivian R1T truck during a Dec. 16 press conference announcing that the electric-vehicle makerplans to build a $5 billion assembly plant and battery factory in Georgia. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“We’ve got jobs tax credits in the statutes, other tools at our disposal,” Kemp said. “But what I focused on was speed to market and the workforce that we could help train. Those were the biggest selling points.”

That annoys critics who say Georgia shouldn’t dish out enormous incentives to a company that’s worth more than Ford and General Motors. Some also say the state should be more transparent about the promises it made to secure the factory.

“It’s particularly concerning because these economic development deals often don’t live up to promises,” said J.C. Bradbury, a Kennesaw State University economics professor who has written extensively about state subsidies.

‘Solutions’

The most generous of the perks is spelled out in Georgia law.

A recently altered “mega tax credit” program offers incentives at $5,250 per job annually for five years for companies readying major investments in Georgia. Those credits were long capped at 4,500 new jobs, but legislators quietly removed that limit this year.

That amounts to roughly $200 million over five years if Rivian fulfills its promise to create 7,500 jobs. And it could be worth an additional $65 million over that period if the automaker eventually adds 2,500 more jobs, as state officials expect.

Pat Wilson, the state’s economic development commissioner, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the state will also finance a Quick Start training and recruitment facility at the Rivian complex, much like it continues to operate at the Kia plant.

“What sets us apart is that once this begins, that workforce training piece is a partnership between us and the company, and we continue that through the longevity of the company,” he said. “As long as they’re hiring, we’re helping them.”

The incentive package for Rivian, Wilson said, is “structured” much like the perks offered to Kia, which now ranks as the most generous the state has ever awarded.

But that project was far smaller than Rivian when it was first announced, with an initial projection of 1,800 jobs. Wilson said Rivian could eventually employ more than 10,000 people.

(The $1.9 billion public financing project to redo the Gulch in downtown Atlanta is in a different category, and involves a mix of bonds and tax incentives that will span three decades.)

Infrastructure improvements will soon be underway, with plans to widen nearby roads and a new interchange on I-20 to serve the factory. So could changes to the law that would give Rivian and other electric vehicle makers a jolt.

Lobbyists for the automakers have renewed their pleas to state power brokers to let them sell the vehicles directly to Georgia customers, despite opposition from powerful auto dealers who favor the current structures.

And state legislators could try to revive a $5,000 tax credit for electric vehicles that was eliminated in 2015 at the urging of critics who believed it was too generous. Sales of the cars immediately fell off a cliff after the perk was cut.

“I have to think that Rivian would have asked for two things: the $5,000 tax credit to be revived and the direct-sale carveout,” said Tim Echols, a member of the Public Service Commission who has long advocated for the industry.

“It’s not chargers that will convince people to take the plunge,” he added. “It’s tax credits, both federal and state. It relieves some of the mental anxiety.”

A senior official with knowledge of the discussions said Rivian didn’t seek the changes as a “condition” to the deal, and state leaders couldn’t easily promise the measures given the unpredictability of the upcoming legislative session.

Dan Immergluck, a Georgia State University professor who studies real estate finance and community development, cautioned that Georgia is making a substantial wager, too, on a firm that is still awash in red ink and facing production glitches and fierce competition.

He suggested the state should bargain for an equity stake in the company “given the significant risks that the purported benefits are highly speculative and uncertain.”

Wilson, the economic development commissioner, declined to discuss specifics about the deal. But state officials often note that the infrastructure, such as the new roads and training center, would be owned by the state.

And the tax credits typically include a clawback mechanism that allows Georgia to seek repayment if Rivian doesn’t substantially meet its promises.

“My job is to find solutions. Their No. 1 issue is speed to market, their No. 2 issue is workforce,” Wilson said. “And we want to find solutions to their problems and try to structure incentives around that.”

caption arrowCaption
Rivian Executive Vice President of Facilities Jimmy Knauf, left, smiles as he shows a Rivian R1T electric truck to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp during a press conference at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 16. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Rivian Executive Vice President of Facilities Jimmy Knauf, left, smiles as he shows a Rivian R1T electric truck to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp during a press conference at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 16. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Rivian Executive Vice President of Facilities Jimmy Knauf, left, smiles as he shows a Rivian R1T electric truck to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp during a press conference at Liberty Plaza across from the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 16. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

About the Author

Editors' Picks