RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — It’s out there.

One of the first things I noticed about the new Greensboro-Randolph Megasite is how long it takes to get there: a good 25-30 minutes from just about every direction (Greensboro, High Point, Asheboro).

It sits entirely in northeastern Randolph County (near the Guilford County line) off U.S. 421 (soon to be Interstate 685). The North Carolina Department of Transportation will soon build a new highway connector linking the site to that major highway.

But the distance shouldn’t come as a surprise given the size of what’s about to be built on its 1,800 acres: the more than $1 billion Toyota plant which, if everything goes as planned, will be turning out electric and hybrid car batteries in about three years.

I recently made the trip to the site from Asheboro after spending some time with Kevin Franklin, the president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Franklin sees this site and this project creating a potential ripple effect of good things.

“We truly don’t have an understanding today where we sit of the long-term positive impact we’ll see 10,15, 20 years down the road,” he told me.

But this Toyota project was, in many ways, born out of disappointment.

First, a little history.

The megasite dates back to 2015 when the Bryan Foundation of Greensboro formed the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Foundation.

That foundation would soon join forces with the Randolph County government and the North Carolina Railroad Company to start buying land for the site that would hopefully attract a large employer. Those three entities own the site today.

Franklin has watched it all unfold.

He arrived in Randolph County in the early 1990s after growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, and graduating with a history degree from Bob Jones University. He started teaching at Faith Christian School in Ramseur.

“I had been to the (North Carolina) zoo one time before (arriving in Ramseur),” he said. “But I would have never equated that with Randolph County.”

He would later serve as Ramseur town administrator from 2006 to 2012. He joined the county’s EDC as existing business and industry coordinator in 2013, became vice president of the organization in 2017 and president in 2019.

Needless to say, by the time he became a top administrator at the EDC, the megasite was in full-scale recruitment mode. And Franklin’s been among the key people advancing it.

The big disappointment happened in 2018. The megasite had become one of two finalists for a $1.6 billion, 4,000-job Toyota-Mazda car manufacturing plant.

“I saw first-hand the impact that BMW had on Greenville (BMW built an auto manufacturing plant in South Carolina’s upstate in the early 1990s.),” he said. “So I saw that as an amazing opportunity for Randolph County.”

But he vividly remembers the day he got a call from Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen informing him Toyota-Mazda had decided to build its plant in Alabama.

“With all the effort, all the time, all the investment and coming so close, it was incredibly disappointing,” he said. “The biggest lesson is that you cry for half a day, and then you get back up, and you go back to work. We never stopped working to prepare that site for whoever the next client was going to be.”

The work paid off. Toyota made the battery plant announcement in December of 2021. 1,750 new jobs would soon be on the way.

And it couldn’t be happening at a better time for Randolph County, a place where many of its legacy companies (Klaussner Furniture and Acme-McCrary Hosiery, for example) have either reduced their workforces or closed.

At this point, because battery-making involves fewer moving parts than making vehicles with internal combustion engines, this plant won’t require an extensive network of outside companies to make those parts.

North Carolina’s lack of an automotive manufacturing supply chain was a key reason Alabama won the Toyota-Mazda plant.

But Franklin believes as electric cars become more common and affordable, it’s feasible outside companies that will eventually supply Toyota’s operations will decide to locate here.

It’s why the EDC is working to attract developers who would be interested in building large buildings to house these companies. Randolph County is also currently working to make several existing sites shovel-ready.

Franklin also believes the Toyota battery plant will end up being better for Randolph County and the surrounding area than the plant that was so much the focus of disappointment in 2018.

“The ability to get in on the ground level, and the (battery/electric car) technology as it continues to shift and the opportunity partnerships with our educational institutions and grabbing more advanced degrees related to electronics and engineering, I think it opens up a lot of new doors of opportunity,” he said.

It sounds like a nice ripple effect. And when you look at it that way, the megasite doesn’t seem as far “out there” as it physically is.

To read more about the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, click here.

To read more about the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation, click here.