Economic Development

$130M in Financing Needed for Electric Car Plants

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Four sites for four manufacturing operations: two have been secured, assuming financing will be arranged. Two more are about to be secured. Then it’s up to Ohio and Pennsylvania to provide incentives for a $130 million electric car project to become reality.

That’s essentially where Velfera Auto Design Inc., based in Texas, stands in regards to its proposal to build and test lightweight, battery-powered vehicles at sites in Columbiana, Trumbull, Mahoning and Mercer County, Pa.

Last night the East Liverpool Community Improvement Corp. signed a letter of intent to enter into negotiations with Velfera to sell 80 acres at the site of the former Riverview Florist Co. once the company obtains financing for what it says will become a 260,000-square-foot plant that turns out small electric vehicles, employs 180 at first, and possibly as many as 300.

Velfera has signed a second letter of intent to acquire about 90 acres on King Graves Road just off state Route 11 in Trumbull County, where the company plans to build larger vehicles as well as a testing center. And the company is looking at sites in Mahoning County and Mercer County, Pa., for sub-assembly operations, says its president, Antonio Pierce.

Velfera, formed four years ago, describes itself as “an automotive design firm focused on the emerging hybrid and battery electric vehicle design.”

Pierce declined to state annual sales or payroll. “We’re fairly dynamic in how we function,” he explained, bringing in engineers “on contract depending on the project.”

The lightweight electric vehicles would serve commercial and municipal markets, operating at costs as low as two cents per mile, he says.

“We’ll start out building 1,000 to 2,000 units a year and then we’ll grow from there,” Pierce says.

His company has “already worked out with our funders” $55 million in financing, he says. “We’re working on the rest of the package with communities and the states. It’s $130 million total.”

Pierce says he was drawn to northeastern Ohio and western Ohio by Vic Rubenstein of Liberty Township-based Rubenstein Associates, with whom he became acquainted as a result of Rubenstein’s efforts 20 years ago to bring Pan Am to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

“We’re in a four-, five-step process of securing land,” Rubenstein says. “What I’ve been trying to do for him is put deals together to make contingent land transfers if he has the financing.”

Introductory meetings have been held with JobsOhio and development organizations in Pennsylvania.

“The project is going forward,” Pierce says. “The question now is what can we put together with the state to help us. Once we know what is available, we can finalize our timeline. Our target is to have that done by the end of the year.”

Pictured: Electric car posted at Velfera’s website.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.