It’s standard procedure for economic developers everywhere: when a new business shows interest in their region, they start by providing a basic demographic and industry profile and go from there.
Under normal circumstances, that’s the first task for Jonathan Smith, manager of communication research at Grant County Economic Development Council in central Washington.
But early on, Smith and his colleagues discovered their latest recruitment case was different. Giant automaker BMW was involved, and its chief interest was Grant County’s power—the hydroelectric variety.
“Most times we first send businesses a demographic profile from EMSI right away,” Smith says. “This project was a little unique in that it was only of secondary importance.”
Grant County is home to two hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. The proximity to cheap, abundant, and green sources of power ultimately gave Moses Lake—the rural county’s largest city—an advantage over its competition in being selected for a $100 million BMW factory that will make carbon fiber to be used in ultra-lightweight and energy-efficient cars.
The project is a joint venture between BMW and SGL Group. The two German companies are hoping to revolutionize the clean-energy auto industry by building carbon-fiber cars—called “Megacity Vehicles” by BMW—with a carbon-neutral production process. Because they use carbon fiber for their frames, the electric cars will be 25% lighter than normal cars and thereby be able to travel nearly twice as far than average electric-charged cars.
“BMW is really counting on this as being the game-changer in being fuel efficient,” Smith says.
Starting in June, 200 construction workers will be at work on the project. And by next year, Moses Lake’s composite manufacturing factory will employ 80 full-time workers. There’s also the potential for another $100 million in investment that could mean an extra 120 jobs to the region.
Smith used EMSI’s input-output tool to determine that the initial 80 manufacturing jobs will lead to an estimated 41 other jobs will be added in the regional economy, creating a combined total of $6.7 million in new earnings and wages.
The Moses Lake carbon fiber plant is the second step in the elaborate production of the cutting-edge cars. After starting in Japan, the process moves Washington, where several thousand tons of carbon fiber will be produced each year. The fiber is then shipped to Germany and put into large sheets that are shaped and formed into the vehicles’ bumpers, roofs, etc.
The factory will be a boon to Grant County, which has previously attracted innovative manufacturing firms and high-tech data centers for Yahoo!, Microsoft, and others.
As part of its latest recruitment—a process that started in June 2009—Grant County EDC not only had to focus on power, but the current and future output of graduates that will infused into the region’s workforce. Smith contacted nearly every community college and university in a several hundred mile radius regarding specific engineering programs and how many graduates BMW and SGL can expect.
“They asked, ‘Does this region have the knowledge to handle this plant?’” Smith says. After the EDC’s research, the answer was a clear yes.
The BMW/SGL joint venture announcement was made at a Seattle news conference by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and officials from SGL and BMW. Since the companies settled on Moses Lake, Smith says the region and the EDC are getting increased attention from businesses in the same or similar high-tech manufacturing industries.
“We’re fortunate that they’ve made such a big splash,” he says. “BMW really did us a big favor.”
Resources and Articles
Economic Impact Assessment, Grant County EDC.
“Hydropower draws BMW carbon-fiber factory to Washington.” Seattle Times.
“BMW officially announces $100M Moses Lake plant.” Puget Sound Business Journal.