April 1, 2022 7:00am

A Rivian Runs Through It

Power Pollers overwhelmingly support the $5 billion Rivian deal, even if they oppose constitutional carry.

Photo of Steve Fennessy
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

Last December, Gov. Brian Kemp announced what he said was the biggest economic development deal in the history of Georgia—a $5 billion facility east of Atlanta where Rivian, the electric vehicle maker, would churn out 400,000 vehicles a year and employ 7,500 workers. A massive win for Georgia, right? In Power Poll’s March survey, three out of four respondents agreed it is, anyway.

But this was also supposed to be a huge win for Kemp, who’s running for re-election this year. After all, despite talk of the GOP’s identity crisis, it remains, at its branding core, the party that is friendly to business big and small. Kemp is obviously eager to maintain Georgia’s ranking as the number one state for business. (Both Site Selection and Area Development magazines have designated Georgia as such for multiple years’ running.) And for the governor, who’s anticipating a battle against Democrat Stacey Abrams in the general election in November, the announcement had the added bonus of appealing to clean energy advocates; Rivian makes only emission-free electric vehicles, and corporate behemoth Amazon has orders with the manufacturer to buy 100,000 electric delivery vans.

But wait. News of the project sent its would-be neighbors in Morgan and Walton counties into a NIMBY furor. Worried the plant would contaminate their water, snarl traffic, and forever change the rural nature of their community, they picketed, protested, and crowded public meetings. They also complained about the cost of economic development deals such as this one. While all the economic incentives haven’t been disclosed yet, it’s believed they will exceed the $400 million package that Georgia provided to Kia when the South Korean carmaker built its plant in West Point in 2009. What will the state provide to Rivian? Tax abatements, land acquisition, a training facility, and possibly even a new interchange off I-20.

Enter David Perdue, the former U.S. senator who, with Donald Trump’s endorsement, has mounted a primary challenge against Kemp for governor. Perdue spoke at an anti-Rivian rally, invoking the name of George Soros, a favorite bugaboo of the right. (Soros is an investor in Rivian.) The Rivian plant, Perdue concluded, is a “bad idea.”

Only two Power Poll respondents out of 119 agreed with Perdue, though. But 12 (representing about 10%) said that while the plant was good for Georgia, the site had become too controversial and state leaders should find Rivian another location. Overwhelmingly, though, respondents believe Rivian is a benefit to Georgia.

The Rivian issue is far from settled. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on March 23, one of the carrots that may have been dangled in front of Rivian was that the company could sell its vehicles directly to Georgia consumers, bypassing dealerships. Such a carve-out requires approval from state lawmakers. But so far, the Senate bill that would allow such an exemption never even got a committee hearing. Rivian isn’t expected to roll out its first vehicles until 2024, so there’s still time, but one does wonder

A surge in homicides during the pandemic also meant a surge in gun purchases nationwide. Republican lawmakers in Georgia, with the support of Gov. Brian Kemp, made “constitutional carry,” as it’s called, one of the centerpieces of their agenda for the 2022 General Assembly. Senate Bill 319, which has since passed both houses, would allow Georgians to bypass permits (and permit fees) in order to carry a concealed weapon. “In the face of rising crime across the country, law-abiding citizens should have their constitutional rights protected—not undermined,” Kemp has said. If Kemp signs the bill into law—and there’s no sign he won’t—Georgia will join 21 other states with similar “constitutional carry” provisions.

But is it a good idea? Three out of four Power Poll respondents said such a law would be a bad idea, while 18 percent agreed with the legislation. Just nine out of 119 respondents had no opinion on the measure.

If respondents were decisive on issues of economic development and guns, they were decidedly more circumspect when it came to determining whether the Braves or the Falcons will be hurt more by the loss of their franchise players, Freddie Freeman and Matt Ryan, respectively. Ultimately, 41 percent believe Freeman’s exodus to the Dodgers will hurt the Braves more than Ryan decamping Atlanta for Indianapolis, while 29 percent think Ryan’s departure hurts more.

Perhaps that breakdown makes sense. After all, the Braves are the reigning world champions, and have nowhere to go but down. Contrast them with the Falcons, who haven’t made the playoffs since the 2017 season, right after their historic loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Longtime fans are growing impatient, and Ryan’s departure, on the heels of Julio Jones’s last summer, feels like the end of an era. But what does a post-Matt Ryan franchise look like? Stick around.

Or, as respondent Michael Eriksen, a Georgia State University professor points out, “Little is said about losing BOTH Freddie Freeman and Matt Ryan at the same time, and the cumulative effect of losing the best players, and most outstanding men, on both teams at the same time.”

Well, we still have Trae Young on the Hawks. And Josef Martinez with Atlanta United!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

More on This Poll

More Polls

More on This Poll