By Richard Sullins |

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper was in Sanford on Wednesday to visit the site on Central Carolina Community College’s campus where the 7,500 workers of the state’s first automotive manufacturing facility will be trained over the next two years.

It was a day that has been long-coming for Cooper and for the state, and CCCC was chosen to host it because of the critical role it played in landing the largest economic development project in state history. The Tar Heel state had tried for years to lure a company from the automotive sector but kept coming up short. But it never quit and just 13 months ago, its lucky number finally came up when Vietnamese car company VinFast announced it had chosen a site in Chatham County just 15 miles north of Sanford for its first North American manufacturing facility.

Just over a year after that announcement was made in Raleigh, Cooper gathered again with VinFast’s CEO and others, this time in Sanford, to celebrate that success and review milestones, both those that are still to come and others now in the rear-view mirror.

“We are the number one state in the country for business, and there is really only one group of people that deserve the credit for that. It’s because we have the best people, the most dedicated people, the hardest working people, and the best-trained people in the country right here, and companies from the other side of the globe are recognizing that. And that is why they are here investing in North Carolina,” Cooper told a group of more than 100 present for the event.

VinFast will produce both electric automobiles and the batteries that power them at Chatham County’s Triangle Innovation Point, a 2,150-acre advanced manufacturing site formerly called the Moncure Megasite. It’s located southeast of U.S. 1 between Pea Ridge Road at Exit 81 and Christian Chapel Church Road at Exit 84. Grading work has been happening at the site for most of the past six months.

Kirk Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, also spoke at the gathering and highlighted the $7.2 million the county has invested in the 22-acre site where Wednesday’s gathering took place, the same site where the VinFast employees will receive their training. Lee County’s acquisition of the property site previously owned by Magnetti Marelli in July of 2021 came a full 18 months before VinFast’s announcement and gave the state a big card to play in the hand that ultimately brought the company to North Carolina.

“Lee County has a lot of skin in this game,” Smith said. “My peers across the state of North Carolina are just fascinated with this facility that we’ve acquired here for the use of training our future workforce. We look forward to a very productive partnership here in Lee County with VinFast and with other manufacturers.”

Cooper joked that the reason he visited Sanford was to test drive one of the company’s new VF-8 models that were on display for the event. But he was really on hand to talk about was the need for new legislative initiatives in childcare that help support students while they are learning new skills for the workforce.

The governor called childcare support, now under discussion at the General Assembly in Raleigh, “the triple play” because it provides three pillars of support for the economy.

“First, it gives the children a quality early childhood education, which we know is so important,” he said. “Second, it allows that parent to work and bring income into the family, and third, it gives that employer a great employee you might otherwise not be able to be in the workforce at a time when we need to be strengthening our workforce.”

The ability to rely on a strong labor force is critical to a company like VinFast during its startup phases, according to its CEO of North American Operations, Van Anh Nguyen, who recently moved to North Carolina to be here during the company’s most critical first days.

“Once we reach full capacity, we will be building 150,000 electric vehicles per year in Chatham County just 15 miles from here and we will be employing more than 7000 employees at this location,” she said.

Nguyen brought two of the electric vehicles that will be built at the Moncure plant, the VF8, to showcase and some, including the governor and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Arun Venkataraman, N.C. Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, CCCC President Dr. Lisa Chapman, and CCCC Board of Trustees Chairman H. Julian Philpott, got to go for a spin inside the 220,000 square feet that make up the covered inside space of the E. Eugene Moore Manufacturing and Biotech Solutions Center, in honor of Moore’s $2 million gift to the college.

Wednesday’s event took place after a number of disappointing reviews and resulting negative publicity the company has received during the last year of the two models it will eventually build at its Moncure facility, the VF8 and VF9, and delays in production and delivery dates for its vehicles.

Concerns have also been raised about the confusion that surrounds the company’s policies for battery exchange and leasing programs, items that are considered critical to the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) by the masses. The absence of plans for dealerships from which to buy the electric vehicles and have them serviced has also led to wariness from the buying public that will be needed for the company to ultimately make a profit.

But Cooper is undeterred.

“Why can’t it be North Carolina that has the supply chain?” he asked the crowd. “You know, we tried for decades to get an automobile manufacturer in our state, but sometimes, it’s the good Lord who knows when to open the door. Because right when the EV market begins to emerge in this state and across this nation and around the world, that is the moment when North Carolina gets its first automobile manufacturing facility.”

“And we can build that supply chain here, folks,” he continued. “I don’t care what you think about climate or carbon reduction. That’s all important in my book, because I think we have a responsibility to future generations. But even if you push all of that aside, it’s about the green revolution. It’s about the dollars and the jobs that are part of this clean energy economy, and it’s coming to Lee County.”

And with those words, Cooper sat down with VinFast’s North American CEO and took his first test drive in what could be a North Carolina product in just over two years time.