Arkansas' natural and man-made resources, from the Mississippi River to the steel industry in the northeast and lithium extraction in the south, made the state an attractive location for Envirotech Vehicles Inc. of Corona, California, to set up its first U.S. manufacturing center.
That's what Envirotech CEO Phillip Oldridge told Arkansas Business late Tuesday in an interview that covered the company's reasons for choosing Arkansas, key players in the decision, and plans for its new facility.
The company announced that it's buying the 580,000-SF former Fruit of the Loom facility on 100 acres at 1425 Ohlendorf Road in Osceola. Envirotech expects the zero-emissions plant making commercial-use electric cars and trucks to employ 800 people at an average annual salary of $60,000.
The facility is about a mile from where U.S. Steel of Pittsburgh is building a new $3 billion steel plant on the campus of its Big River Steel plant. Plans are to source lithium for its vehicles’ batteries from Standard Lithium Ltd., the Vancouver company that has been testing the commercial viability of lithium extraction and refinement at test plants in El Dorado for several years. “We're excited to be able to source all of that product locally within the state,” Oldridge said.
He also said the Osceola facility should see “full blown manufacturing” in 12-18 months, but it’s open now. Vehicles requiring final assembly and pre-delivery inspections are being delivered, and that work is expected to be in full swing within three to four months.
Envirotech has already produced 30-plus vehicles that are on the road today, and expects about 40 to be delivered to the new facility soon.
Meanwhile, a “cleanup process” is underway and corporate offices are being transferred from California. Wholesale managers are on site now, and the company hopes all senior management will be there by the end of next month, Oldridge said.
About the building’s size, he added, “it's a bit of an overkill to start with, but the way that we wanted to ramp up production in various models and formally build different lines, it lends itself in such a way in providing an opportunity that we could start to renovate and start to build out lines in different sections of the building and just progressively do that over time.”
For now, the company is leasing the building in conjunction with a purchase contract, Oldridge said, as it works through environmental compliance issues that are standard for manufacturers. He didn’t disclose the purchase price but Clif Chitwood, economic developer for Mississippi County, said Envirotech is expected to pay between $3 million and $4 million. Chitwood said that whatever the amount, it will be reinvested in the project in some way.
Oldridge said state Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, and Shine Solar CEO Nick Gordon played pivotal roles in convincing his company to come to Arkansas.
In November, Envirotech announced that it had delivered one van and one truck to Shine Solar LLC of Rogers. Envirotech also entered into a factory authorized representative agreement with Shine Solar in August; that agreement allowed Shine Solar to promote, sell and service Envirotech products throughout the country.
The company was “very well received” by state and local officials, Oldridge said.
“Everybody just jumped through hoops, and just really went out of their way to make us feel welcome and are just excited for the opportunity," he said. "And for us to be able to put up a facility that size in the Delta, that speaks volumes in itself. And we're very, very excited about that."
Oldridge said Osceola offered a site that is well served by highway, rail and the Mississippi River, plus local incentives focused on housing and workforce training for its employees.
The company is still negotiating with the state on other incentives.
Economic Developer Reacts
Chitwood said Envirotech's presence in Osceola, coupled with Canoo Inc.'s commitment to relocate to northwest Arkansas, is transforming the state into a hotspot for investment in advanced mobility.
“And then, when coupled with the U.S. Steel announcement, as well as the [Ford Motor Co.’s] Blue Oval announcement to the west of Memphis, it certainly strengthens the industrial capacity of the Mid-South area, which includes the Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas," he said.
He expects Envirotech will be in a highly competitive field, but said it already has a solid supply chain and experience. So Chitwood is confident that the company will succeed in Osceola.
He said the U.S. Steel mills, plus auto parts maker DENSO’s facility in Osceola, helped sell the area as somewhere Envirotech should call home. And with Nucor Steel’s expansion in Blytheville three years ago, Chitwood said, “The free market juices are flowing in Mississippi County."
He continued: “I mean, while the county hasn't had an easy 20 years, we think that we're back to a point where lots of people are going to start seriously looking at the labor force, the training that Arkansas Northeastern College is able to provide, which is the finest workforce training delivery system in the South. They do an astounding job. It’s all kind of one piece of a revival or renaissance of business in Mississippi County.”