RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — There are more than 10,000,000 of them in North Carolina, and no matter where you go, you’re going to see one. What you don’t see are the people creating them.
There are hundreds of license plates to choose from in the state. “In God we Trust,” “First in Flight” and “First in Freedom” being the three default varieties. The women shaping the aluminum inside a facility in Raleigh each surrendered their freedom and then rebuilt their track records to earn the right to get inside.
“There’s no two days that are the same, ever,” inmate Mercy Rodriguez said.
The varieties include everything from your favorite attraction to school to sports team.
“I work the blanking line,” Rodriguez said. “That’s pretty much the very beginning of the process.”
The inmates cut, emboss and sort the plates to the tune of 15,000 to 20,000 tags a day.
“Paint them, box them and ship them out all across the state,” said Jeffrey Petrie, correction enterprises manager at the plant.
When it comes to specialty plates, the Hurricanes and Panthers do well, but the most popular focus on terrain. While there are about 8,000 Panthers plates on the road, the Blue Ridge Parkway plates total more than 25,400, and there are more than 27,200 plates featuring the Blue Ridge Parkway design.
There are also tens of thousands of Disabled Veterans, Farm Vehicle, and Permanent Trailer plates in addition to millions of “Private Auto” plates.
“It’s exciting because now I’m going to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I did those,’” Rodriguez said.
There is a screening process the inmates have to make it through to be allowed to work at the plant. They also go through rehabilitation classes while learning manufacturing skills they can use when released.
“It’s impressive to see the scale and to see the volume they’ve produced,” NCDMV Communications Manager Marty Homan said.
North Carolina license plates used to be steel, and drivers would be issued a new one every year. When they shifted to aluminum, drivers would get a new one every seven years, but Homan said the state did away with that when aluminum became harder to come by during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, he says they’re watching other states that are piloting digital license plates to see if that’s something that could work in North Carolina.
As for the employees who get to go home every day, reminders of what they create there five days a week are everywhere they turn.
“Every single one,” Petrie said, laughing. “You look at every single one now.”