For the second time since the beginning of the year, the Southern Virginia Mega Site at Berry Hill in Pittsylvania County almost landed a high-profile development.
Last week, chemical manufacturing company Albemarle Corp. selected a site in Chester County, South Carolina, for a new lithium hydroxide processing facility, pledging to invest at least $1.3 billion and create 300 jobs.
Lee Vogler, a city councilman in Danville, said that the Berry Hill site was a finalist for the project and that Gov. Glenn Youngkin was personally involved in conversations with Albemarle.
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said that officials at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership told him that Albemarle chose the South Carolina site because it was closer to the company’s main facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Chester County site is 800 acres, and Albemarle is expected to produce about 50,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium hydroxide annually there, according to a March 22 news release from the company.
A Reuters report said that the average pay for plant employees will be $93,000. The median mean income in Danville is about $39,000, according to 2021 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
But a site’s location is one thing that economic development officials can’t control.
“You can’t move geography,” Marshall said. “There’s not a thing we could do about that.”
Still, Vogler said that company officials were very fond of the site. “They loved it, but the location was a little too much for us to overcome,” he said.
As of 2020, Albemarle was the largest provider of lithium for electric vehicle batteries in the world. Electric battery plants have been one of the main developers for the mega sites across the country.
Earlier this year, Youngkin removed the Berry Hill site from consideration for a Ford electric battery plant over concerns that a Chinese company would have owned the technology.
But in negotiations about Albemarle lithium processing plant, Youngkin personally spoke with the company’s CEO, Marshall said.
“The governor had talked to the CEO of the company a couple of times to see if there was anything that we could do to help them make a decision to come to Berry Hill,” Marshall said. “He told me he had a couple half-hour or 45-minute phone calls.”
Vogler also said that Youngkin was “very helpful in trying to land this project.”
It’s “slightly frustrating” to come so close and lose out again, Vogler said, but it just proves how competitive the Berry Hill site is.
“I can remember when we didn’t really have any prospects at all for that site,” Vogler said. “So to be at the point where now, we’re having these large projects continually coming to us, not only coming to us but, we’re at the very end, literally when the decision is made, that’s encouraging.”
Last May, the site lost out on a $5.5 billion Hyundai electric vehicle battery plant, and in 2018, a Mazda-Toyota joint-venture manufacturing plant. These operations went to Savannah, Georgia, and Huntsville, Alabama, respectively.
“But the fact that we’re constantly in the mix speaks to the quality of the site,” Vogler said.