Pat Wilson was named commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in 2016, leading the state agency responsible for creating jobs and investment. Automotive and transportation figures significantly in the state’s efforts, and its auto-related activities include Kia’s U.S. manufacturing plant, a $2.5 billion electric vehicle battery production project by SK Innovation, and the North American headquarters of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. In July, the state launched the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance, a multi-agency initiative to determine what skills a future automotive work force will require and to establish the pipeline to deliver them. Wilson spoke with News Editor Lindsay Chappell about Georgia’s outlook for auto industry growth there. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What is the new alliance that Georgia has created?
A: We’re seeing that our auto companies are planning a major transition to electrified technology, and that’s going to be significant for Georgia and really for every other state where the auto industry operates. We need to make sure we’re on the front end of that transition. We have about 55,000 Georgians employed in the auto industry. We need to help auto companies make the transition to protect those jobs.
The Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance is a public-private partnership that looks at supply chains, at the nature of the work force — which will be very different from today’s work force — and then at the innovation going on in the industry and the public policy that’s needed to support it. The government will listen to our partners in industry to see what we need to do to develop the skills they need.
It must be a difficult point to make, that the rise of the EV industry will require a different work force from the one Georgia has today. What can the state do to deliver it?
It’s a massive effort. Out of those 55,000 jobs, some percentage of them are going to change dramatically. Georgia Gov. [Brian] Kemp has asked all state agencies, including the Georgia university system, its technical colleges and our department of labor, to work with us to tackle the issue. We have to upskill Georgians to continue to move in the direction of the jobs of the future — and that’s all of the different pieces of that economy, whether it’s high-end electronics or the chemistry involved in batteries. There are federal resources and state resources available. We want to pull it all together.
How will that effort support the auto industry?
Battery manufacturers would like to see some of their supply chains localize in North America, and that involves some basic industries, like chemicals and minerals. The United States doesn’t participate in a lot of that. Only about 10 percent of the lithium ion battery value chain comes from the United States. For example, Georgia actually happens to be a mining source for the rare-earth materials that go into battery manufacturing, but those materials then have to go elsewhere to be processed. We need that processing here at home. We need to be producing the minerals at home, as well as the raw materials, the cathodes, the anodes and the film that goes in between the layers, and most of that comes out of Asia or Eastern Europe. Our goal is to go get those companies and bring them to the U.S.
So you’re not simply talking about attracting existing auto manufacturing to Georgia. You’re talking about building an industrial base that doesn’t currently exist in the U.S.?
That’s right. We’ve talked to SK, which is investing in Georgia for battery production, and we have a thorough accounting of that entire supply. We just need to bring the supply chain here.