Article Originally Published: wvnews.com
WEIRTON, W.Va. (WV News) — Weirton, once the epicenter of West Virginia’s steel industry, is on the verge of beginning a project that developers say will attract billions of dollars in private investment and ultimately create thousands of new jobs. Officials with the Frontier Group of Companies, the developers behind the planned Weirton Frontier Crossing development, recently celebrated news they had received $1.5 million in congressionally directed spending thanks to U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin.
The federal funds are the final financial component of the project’s Phase 1 industrial access road project, which will play a key part in Form Energy’s planned iron-air battery manufacturing facility.
“What is most important about completing the assembly of the capital stack for this first phase of this industrial access road is that road will be the catalyst for what will amount to be $2 billion in private investment at Weirton Frontier Crossing and the creation of 3,000 jobs,” said Patrick Ford, business development director for the Frontier Group of Companies. Phase 1 of the road project is set to break ground in spring 2024. Form Energy is set to break ground on its roughly $760 million facility this summer, according to Ford.
The Weirton Frontier Crossing development will be built on the former site of Weirton Steel — a critical steel producer for the country for many years, particularly during World War I.
The project will see the dilapidated steel mill turned into more than 1,300 acres of industrial-zoned land ready for site development.
The developers first acquired the Weirton Frontier Crossing site in 2016 from ArcelorMittal S.A., a multinational steel manufacturing corporation headquartered in Luxembourg, and spent the next several years focused on site remediation and demolition efforts.
In 2020, the developers began strategic planning and infrastructure development while continuing demolition work. By 2022, work began on public road access, port availability and critical connections to transportation networks.
In late December, Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials announced Form Energy had chosen the WFC site as the future home of its multi-day renewable batteries manufacturing facility.
The company considered “over 500 candidate locations across 16 states” before choosing West Virginia, said Mateo Jaramillo, co-founder and CEO of Form Energy.
“We look forward to working with Weirton community leaders in the coming months to determine how we can best support the needs of local residents in the area through lasting community partnership and engagement,” he said.
The state checked all of the company’s boxes, said Form Energy co-founder and President Ted Wiley during a recent event in Morgantown.
“The logistics and the supply chain footprint was really what go us excited about West Virginia,” he said. “It had to have rivers, it had to have rail, it had to have major highways.”
West Virginia offered Form Energy “a unique financial incentive package worth up to $290 million” to secure the company’s investment, Justice said.
“The funds put toward this project are guaranteed, secured and collateralized through ownership of all land and buildings by the state. The West Virginia Economic Development Authority allocated $75 million toward the purchase of land and the construction of buildings in Weirton this morning,” he said Thursday. “I plan on working with the West Virginia Legislature and our federal partners to obtain an additional $215 million needed to finalize our agreement.”
The new battery manufacturing plant, which is expected to be operational by 2024, will create a minimum of 750 new full-time jobs and will represent a total investment of up to $760 million.
Justice signed House Bill 2822 into law at the end of February. The measure appropriated about $105 million to the West Virginia Economic Development Project Fund for the Form Energy project.
“I’m beyond proud to sign this legislation today at the future site of Form Energy on the ground of where Weirton Steel once stood,” Justice said. “It’s incredible [that] this is going to bring 750 great-paying jobs. I thank the West Virginia Legislature for appropriating the necessary funds to make this happen. We all see the potential of this area and company, and I’m thankful we can celebrate another step in this transformational project.” The “unique incentive package” crafted by the the West Virginia Department of Economic Development includes safeguards for the state’s interests, according to West Virginia Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael.
“We insisted that West Virginia own all the land and buildings for this incredible project. The Form Energy incentives are 100% geared to performance. Our deal is clear: If Form Energy doesn’t create 750 jobs, the company will not get a penny from West Virginia,” he said. “Additionally, Form Energy will pay West Virginia a market-based lease rate on the facility. Finally, if Form Energy doesn’t meet their obligations and commitments, they are out, and West Virginia has all the collateral and security.”
Form Energy’s products will reduce America’s reliance on unfriendly countries for vital materials in the battery production supply chain, Carmichael said.
“Form Energy’s technology uses iron ore, one of the most abundant materials in the world, and will be produced in one of the world’s most iconic metal manufacturing cities, Weirton, West Virginia,” he said.