The following commentary was written by John Szoka. Szoka is is the CEO of Conservative Energy Network, a national network of state-based organizations focused on promoting clean energy innovation rooted in conservative values. See our commentary guidelines for more information.
Landing an automobile manufacturing plant is a major win for a state, both economically and politically. In March 2023 VinFast announced that it would invest $4 billion to build a new automotive manufacturing plant in North Carolina that would create over 7,500 jobs. This was widely celebrated by politicians of both major parties as a huge win for North Carolina.
There’s another industry on the East Coast of the United States that could lead to investments of even more than $4 billion for North Carolina — the construction of, and supply chain for, offshore wind facilities.
So far New York has established five active offshore wind projects and five active port development projects. These projects have brought more than 4,300 megawatts of energy development, more than 6,800 jobs, and over $12.1 billion in economic development to the state. New Jersey is not far behind, with a goal of 7,500 MW by 2035. The state’s competitive solicitation process has resulted in three offshore wind projects that have a total capacity of 3,758 MW, $4.67 billion in economic benefits, and include commitments to significant supply chain investments in New Jersey. These investments include a monopile fabrication facility in Paulsboro, New Jersey, support to small businesses, and commitments to two manufacturing facilities at the New Jersey Offshore Wind Port (NJWP). The port is expected to support up to 1,500 jobs and up to $500 million of new economic activity within the state and the region each year.
Northern states that are often at a disadvantage compared to southern states because of their higher labor costs and more onerous regulatory systems, are beating southern states through their significant effort to attract these businesses and jobs. What do conservative, southern states need to do to ensure that they capture the economic benefits of this growing industry?
North Carolina politicians and coastal residents need to separate the idea of having offshore wind facilities off the coast of North Carolina from the manufacturing and supply chain needed to build and support offshore wind up and down the east coast. Those are two different discussions and two different opportunities.
Like New York and New Jersey, North Carolina must proactively attract investment to gain the economic benefits of the offshore wind industry. Whether or not there are ever wind turbines off the coast of North Carolina, the focus should be on getting a portion of the manufacturing and supply chain for offshore wind. I’d be thrilled to get just 10% of the estimated $109 billion needed to establish a domestic offshore wind supply chain into North Carolina. That’s the equivalent of another two automotive plants. And that investment in North Carolina would be where it’s needed most, along the coast.
We can do that if we look at this opportunity just like we look at attracting car manufacturers to the state. We have many strong assets, including our ports infrastructure, our workforce, and our current strong manufacturing base. But North Carolina needs to show the offshore industry that we are ready to make investments and embrace offshore wind manufacturing and supply chain activities. Actions speak louder than words.