New Carlisle, a town of about 1,800 residents in St. Joseph County, is in the running for a $2.4 billion electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant that could mean 1,600 jobs. But it is not the only major project in the works for the community just west of South Bend. United Kingdom-based Lightsource bp wants to build a $165 million solar farm that would generate 150 megawatts of power.
Speaking with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Wes Mills last week, South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Rea said county officials have been investing money and other resources to attract these kinds of projects.
“I think the county has done a good job over the last five or six years in terms of putting some things in place to be attractive for development. Previously, there’s a lot of risk out there, just too many uncertainties,” said Rea. “The county has engaged consultants to look at everything from water, wastewater and wetland, and in zoning and transportation and those kinds of things.”
Rea says St. Joseph County has invested in those efforts to take away the uncertainty developers try to avoid. It also created the Indiana Enterprise Center, an area east of New Carlisle and west of South Bend, to attract industry and manufacturing.
“Time is money. If [developers] have to go through a long due diligence process to better understand the site, it may rule us out,” said Rea “I think some of that upfront investment that they have made has made it attractive.”
Last Tuesday, the St. Joseph County Council gave preliminary approval of a tax abatement request from Ohio-based Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors Co. and LG Energy Solution, for the EV battery plant project.
While Ultium has not made a formal decision on the location of the nearly 2.5 million-square-foot plant as it considers other sites, Rea tells Inside INdiana Business Host Gerry Dick says the University of Notre Dame and Ivy Tech Community College to play a big role in the project.
“As we’ve been making the pitch to the company talking about labor force, those are two critical partners to us,” said Rea. “We think that having higher ed opportunities to train even the lowest-skilled to the highest-skilled employees is a really critical part of us landing this.”
Ultium is currently building three additional EV battery plants in Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan that are expected to open in 2022, 2023 and 2024, respectively. Rea says, if chosen, the New Carlisle plant will be in a great position.
“We feel like ours will be the best should we land it because they’ll have learned some important lessons building those other three plants,” he said. “But we’re really excited about potentially being on the front edge of this emerging industry.”
The county council is slated to vote on approving the tax abatement request on September 13. Rea says he hopes the Indiana Economic Development Corp. approves a state incentive package shortly thereafter, and a final decision from Ultium could come in October.
Last month, the St. Joseph County Council approved the Honeysuckle solar farm project from Lightsource that would encompass 1,100 acres of farmland and provide upwards of 200 construction jobs.
Lightsource says it wants the solar farm to be operational by early 2024.
“It would also provide a more than $30 million dollar boost to government agencies in revenue over the next 30 years without a tax increase on its citizens,” the company said on its website.
Honeysuckle would be the company’s second solar project in Indiana. The company hopes to complete the Bellflower solar farm in Rush and Henry counties later this year.
Lightsource has already reached a power purchase agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) to acquire the power generated from the solar farm. A PPA is not yet in place for the Honeysuckle project in northern Indiana.