North Carolina hopes mega-sites help land auto assembly plant

North Carolina officials are determined to play a larger role in the auto industry, and one key step toward getting there is identifying and designating large, readily available industrial tracts of real estate known as certified megasites. In recent years, the state has assembled a number of certified megasites that, if called for, could be turned over to an automaker to accelerate construction of a major plant, said Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Chung, 44, discussed megasite certification with Staff Reporter Jack Walsworth. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: How do you define a certified megasite?

A: Conceptually, a megasite is one that’s capable of accommodating very large-scale, typically advanced-manufacturing, users. Some places will probably say that’s 500 acres; others will say that’s 1,000. Other places may even say 2,000.

We clearly look at the size of the acreage; we look at critical infrastructure, like rail service, which would be a given if you’re going to be accommodating traditional automotive assembly activity. Most importantly, we look at the intent, the vision, the focus of the ownership of that site or the community that’s taken a role in preemptively developing it for a potential user.

“Certified” is a lot easier to define. The definition varies depending on which state or economic development group you’re talking to. But we have a North Carolina certified sites program.

What does North Carolina’s certification entail?

It has more than 30 different criteria — everything from having completed an environmental study, geotechnical studies and topographical maps and analysis. And you want to have good aerial photography. All of these things are designed to assure a company that their development timetable will be much shorter if they pick that site because a lot of this has been done preemptively.

How many certified megasites does the state have?

We’re in a pretty good place right now. Whether they’ve received certification or not, we’ve got seven very credible megasites that are more than 1,000 acres that can accommodate large-scale advanced-manufacturing users.

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