RICHMOND, Virginia – Governor Glenn Youngkin said Thursday that he felt that Ford’s partnership with Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd. (CATL) to build a battery factory potentially sited in Virginia seemed like an effort to dodge the intent behind the Inflation Reduction Act, and accused The Richmond Times-Dispatch of ignoring facts in reporting on his decision to block the economic development opportunity from going forward in the Commonwealth.
“It was a consortium, as reported and confirmed by Ford, where Ford would build the building but a company that is majorly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party was going to operate the plant and the employees are going to work for the Chinese Communist Party-controlled company,” the governor said in response to a question about the deal at a press conference on an unrelated topic.
“Second of all, they were going to use that in order to try to tap into taxpayer benefits at the federal level that were specifically designated for non-Chinese Communist Party entities. And as a result, when the process to propose Ford to come here, which had not been decided, came to me, I felt this was wholly inconsistent with the way taxpayer money should be used, and I felt like it was a bit deceptive, the way they had structured it,” he said.
Youngkin said that with those concerns, he didn’t want to tie up the site for a potential deal.
In December, Bloomberg reported that Virginia and Michigan were under consideration for the factory and that the Ford-CATL partnership “would let the facility qualify for lucrative production tax credits under the new Inflation Reduction Act while requiring no direct financial investment from CATL.”
That month, an anonymous source told The Daily Caller that Youngkin had blocked Virginia from consideration for the factory. On Monday, January 16, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the plant would have created 2,500 jobs in southside Virginia.
On Thursday morning before the press conference, the paper reported that Ford had notified Virginia that it had already selected a Virginia mega-site for the project before Youngkin blocked it in December, according to two anonymous sources.
The Times said, “Youngkin said those facts are ‘fundamentally wrong,’ but repeatedly refused to answer whether anyone had told him Ford had decided on Virginia.”
At the Thursday press conference, Youngkin repeatedly criticized The Times to media, including a Times education reporter.
“Ford had not made their decision yet. I didn’t allow them to make the decision because I stopped the submission of a proposal into it from the very beginning. Not a single proposal had been made to Ford, and I felt it was inconsistent with what Virginia should use taxpayer money for. And I’ll repeat again, I made that very clear to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Richmond Times-Dispatch chose to ignore the facts and write a story that is really based on hearsay because they have an agenda, and I’m disappointed in that very much,” Youngkin said.
After Youngkin’s press conference, The Times updated the article: “A spokeswoman for Ford Motor Company said Thursday that the company had not made a site selection decision on its plans for an electric vehicle battery plant in partnership with a Chinese company.”
On Thursday afternoon, Ford spokeswoman Melissa Miller told The Virginia Star in an email, “I’m limited in what I can share due to the confidential nature of the site selection processes, but I can tell you that the reporting you reference isn’t accurate; Ford has not made a site selection decision. Beyond that, our talks with CATL, the world’s leading battery producer, continue. Last year, Ford announced an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with CATL to explore their supplying batteries for Ford vehicles and said that we plan to localize the production of LFP [lithium-ferro-phosphate] batteries in North America. We have nothing new to announce on either front at this time.”
At a Thursday House of Delegates session, House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) criticized Youngkin’s decision.
“This is the natural result of somebody putting their ambition before their duty. If you don’t like the deal, Governor, you’re a businessman you claim, change the deal,” Scott said.
House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) echoed Youngkin’s criticism of The Times and defended Youngkin’s decision.
“If we had won this, our only megasite right now in Virginia could have been held up and tied up for years because we wouldn’t have known if we’d gotten a legitimate business deal out of this because of the federal dollars that were going to be required to work on this,” he said.
State Senator Frank Ruff (R-Mecklenberg), who represents part of the region that would have benefited from the jobs at the site, told The Star, “We would have been delighted to have those jobs, but there was no guarantee we were going to get it.”
Ruff said that he and Youngkin had pursued a potential deal with Hyundai to use the mega-site but that Hyundai had chosen Georgia. He said that now there are other companies considering the site, but he couldn’t discuss details.
“That’s a private situation but I think that 2,500 jobs would be nice. 8,000 jobs would be nice. With Hyundai and their suppliers it could have been up to 17,000 jobs,” Ruff said.
State Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) also represents the region.
“We have a history of Chinese, CCP-owned companies letting us down in Southside and southwest Virginia,” Stanley told The Star. “I think the Governor is the chief executive, he makes these decisions for our economic vitality. I trust him with that, and quite frankly, I don’t believe that we should have a company owned by the Chinese Communist Party, a party that wants to do the United States harm, I don’t think we need them in Southside and southwest Virginia.”
Some Democrats have suggested Youngkin’s recent rhetoric against China is part of messaging ahead of a potential presidential run.
“It’s not a national issue,” Stanley said. “This is a Virginia issue and I think he made the right decision.”
“The Democrats have voted against every bill that would protect Virginia against Chinese infiltration and the stealing of Virginia’s trade secrets. They voted that down. Maybe they love China so much they want China to be in Virginia. Maybe you should ask them about that,” he said.
State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Star, “So Halifax County has a median family income that’s 50 percent of the state of Virginia, about 30 percent of Fairfax County, and about a quarter of what the average Loudoun County family earns. It’s an area of our state that desperately needs jobs and economic development.”
“The governor was CEO of a company that has done a lot of business in China, and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it when he was earning the $400 million he now has. And I would assume, given that he was the CEO, he’s pretty creative at making business deals. And I find it hard to believe that he couldn’t figure out a way to make this deal work,” he said.
“The only plausible explanation I see for his conduct is that Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are currently in a race to bash China as much as they can to get attention in a Republican presidential primary, and I’m shocked that the governor would prioritize those kinds of concerns over improving the lives of rural Virginians who really need the help,” he said.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo by Eric Burk.