Economic Development

Velfera Auto Design Project Hits Bump in the Road

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The failure of Velfera Auto Design Inc. to secure the land it sought in western Pennsylvania isn’t affecting its plans elsewhere, an East Liverpool city official said Tuesday.

The president of Velfera, Antonio Pierce, met Tuesday with East Liverpool officials about the project. “It was a great meeting,” remarked Brian Allen, safety service director. “As of right now, he is on schedule with everything that he has promised the city.”

Last year, Pierce announced plans for Velfera, based in Dallas and Baltimore, to construct four plants to house manufacturing and testing operations for battery powered vehicles in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. At the time, Pierce said he was seeking $130 million in financing.

Earlier this month, the Lawrence County Economic Development Corp. turned down a Velfera proposal to acquire 380 acres in Neshannock Township, said Linda Nitch, executive director of the economic development agency.

Under the proposal, submitted in mid-January, Velfera proposed paying for the land in Velfera stock instead of cash, Nitch said.

The board reviewed the proposal “a couple different times” before deciding March 2 “they could not go along with the deal,” she said. There have been deals in which the agency worked out a price per acre based on the investment “but we’ve always been paid for the land that we sold,” she added.

“We are sorry to learn that Lawrence County decided to opt out of the project and we thank them for their efforts. It is one small piece of the puzzle that is quickly being filled in by other participants,” Velfera Holding Corp. and Embark Strategic Partners, a local firm working with Velfera, said in a faxed statement this morning.

“We look forward to working with all of the local partners in bringing this automobile with its latest and best technology to the Valley,” the statement continued.

“The Lawrence County situation has no impact” on East Liverpool, Allen said. Pierce is exploring “other options to satisfy the need” for the Lawrence County site, he remarked.

About 305 acres of the Lawrence County property he had sought would have been used for a test track, Nitch said. “It was going to be a 1-mile test track and it worked very well on that site,” she added. The other 75 acres, in the southern portion, would be shovel-ready land, she said.

Other than a brief conversation following the Lawrence County board’s decision, she said no further communication had been held with Pierce. “I really don’t know how he’s going to work the project now,” she said.

Velfera has a signed letter of intent for the East Liverpool property that expires Aug. 7. Details are yet to be completed but East Liverpool would provide the 80-acre property to construct the proposed 260,000-square-foot vehicle assembly plant.

“We would actually transfer him the property in lieu of the jobs and the economic impact to our community,” Allen said.

The plant would create 180 jobs, he said. The property would be transferred upon Pierce and Velfera providing proof of financing for the project.

Last year Velfera also secured letters of intent on sites in Vienna Township and in Greenville, Pa. In November, Pierce was working on securing financing for the $130 million project, also contingent on public financing and incentives, Pierce said.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.