North and South Carolina Leading in Electric Mobility

New transport infrastructures to support the green revolution

In North Carolina, Chatham County is experiencing a period of revival after difficult decades marked by depopulation and various crises. This county now finds itself at the center of the so-called Battery Belt, the area chosen by major names in the global automotive industry to produce, store, and distribute batteries for electric vehicles. The turning point for Chatham County, a community of 77,000 residents, came a couple of years ago when the U.S. company Wolfspeed, specializing in supplying materials for next-generation semiconductors, announced that it would build a production plant here – now almost completed – worth $5 billion (the largest in the world, according to a note from the company itself). It’s worth mentioning that Wolfspeed already had its own plant in the city of Durham, which is about fifty miles away from Chatham.

The Battery Belt is a strip that gradually extends from North Carolina into South Carolina, and then into Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. The revival of the area is also intertwined with the emergence of the so-called Tech Belt: tech giants have come directly from the Californian valleys in search of substantial public subsidies and tax incentives in exchange for significant investments and the creation of jobs.

The renaissance of the Carolinas and Lane’s role

North Carolina is a state that has managed to create a prestigious hub around the capital Raleigh by connecting its three top colleges and giving birth to the largest research park in the United States, known as the “Research Triangle Park” or simply “The Triangle.” The Triangle has also “affiliated” with another dozen colleges and universities in South Carolina, thus attracting over 300 major companies in the research, medical, and high-tech sectors and creating highly qualified jobs for more than 60,000 people. All this inevitably spurred investments, especially in new road infrastructure. This has been a strong attraction for construction sector companies like Lane Construction of the Webuild Group, which has been operating in the States for 130 years alongside local administrations.

Among Lane’s various projects, in North Carolina, there are important road works such as the Complete 540 Project, which is the highway loop around the capital Raleigh; and the extension and expansion of various sections of Interstates I-40, I-440, I-485, and I-77. Additionally, in South Carolina, Lane has built several roads; bridges, including the I-20 Wateree River and Rehab of Overflow Bridges currently under way; viaducts; and the new access road to the Port of Charleston.

New infrastructures to power electric cars

The development of the two Carolinas thus places its best cards on technology, semiconductor production, and electric vehicle batteries. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, until the 1990s, the United States was the main producer of semiconductors, accounting for 37% of the global market. However, this share has since dropped to 12%, with China currently leading the chip sector (24%), followed by Taiwan (21%). It goes without saying – as highlighted in a document from the local Fed – the need and urgency for the U.S., especially after the pandemic emergency, to create a broader domestic supply and distribution market, especially in the electric vehicle battery field dominated by Asian producers.

In 2022, Vingroup, an electric car company based in California with ownership in Vietnam, announced the construction of a new headquarters in Moncure, right in Chatham County, to produce both vehicles and batteries. Vingroup followed in the footsteps of Toyota, which back in 2001 with an $8 billion investment, initiated the construction of its first plant on American soil in Greensboro-Randolph, also in the Triangle Innovation Point area. EV batteries have also attracted another big player in the sector, SK Battery America (SK stands for South Korea), to aim for direct production in the United States, with five announced plants and some already under construction in the Battery Belt: two in Georgia, two in Kentucky, and the fifth in Tennessee.

Even the European automotive industry is making great strides towards this area. For example, BMW announced at the end of 2022 investments of $1.7 billion in its plants in South Carolina: the Woodruff plant for the production of sixth-generation batteries to supply electric vehicles produced at the nearby BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg. In short, the entire Battery Belt, and particularly the Carolinas, are in pole position in the global race for electric mobility. According to industry data cited by CBS News, investments totaling $90 billion have been announced in the U.S. in the past three years in this sector, with a forecast of 70,000 jobs.