Teamwork made battery plant possible for Weirton

WEIRTON — Christmas came a few days early for Weirton, according to state Sen. Ryan Weld, who was among those on hand in Charleston, Thursday, for the announcement Form Energy intends to build a new battery manufacturing facility in the community.

“For the City of Weirton, this is an enormous, enormous day,” Weld said during an event at the West Virginia Culture Center. “This will be the day we look back and say, this is the day the tide turned.” 

Form Energy anticipates building its first iron-air battery manufacturing plant on 55 acres of land once owned by Weirton Steel and now part of the Frontier Crossings development. The $760 million investment has a goal of creating at least 750 jobs, according to Gov. Jim Justice. 

According to officials with the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, none of it would have been possible without the cooperation of local and state officials, as well as various partners in the community. 

Form Energy is anticipated to focus its initial efforts on the former open hearth building, according to BDC Executive Director Marvin Six. 

“It’s going to be refurbished. It’s going to be a rebuilt building,” Six explained. 

The construction of new buildings will follow, with the company also being the first operation to be served by a long-planned industrial access road proposed under the Weirton Area Reuse Plan. 

Weirton was selected, according to company officials, from a field of 500 potential sites across the country. 

“For months, they conducted background research on every aspect of the community,” noted Jacob Keeney, BDC assistant director, who explained they first received word of Form Energy looking at Weirton in early March. 

To assist in promoting the area to the company, the BDC collaborated with agencies and individuals to compile the appropriate data, including the City of Weirton and Hancock County Commission, West Virginia Northern Community College, Weirton Medical Center, Jobs and Hope, the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center, the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as residents and business owners involved in local child care and history and culture. 

“We brought them all to the table,” Keeney said, explaining the organization, earlier in the year, of a 12-hour day with a marathon of presentations from the various contributors, each of whom fell under a non-disclosure agreement. 

Among the efforts to bring Form Energy to Weirton is an agreement from the State of West Virginia to purchase the 55-acres from the Frontier Group of Companies, which has spent the last several years redeveloping much of the former steel-making property. 

“On behalf of the Frontier Group of Companies, we want to thank Governor Jim Justice, WV Secretary of the Department of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael, and WVEDA Executive Director Kris Warner, and all who assisted in the recruitment of this manufacturing company to Weirton Frontier Crossings,” said David Franjoine, CEO of the Frontier Group of Companies. “We are committed to provide the necessary assistance to Form Energy to forge a lifelong partnership and wish them much success.” 

Weirton Mayor Harold Miller offered his congratulations to all those involved in bringing the project to the city, noting it will provide a major boost for Weirton and the surrounding area. 

“It will create new jobs throughout the entire community,” Miller said. “I’m happy the Frontier Group and the State of West Virginia have reached an agreement to bring this company to Weirton.” 

Hancock County Commissioner Paul Cowey, discussing the announcement following the commission’s Thursday afternoon meeting, also offered his thanks to the BDC and others involved. 

“I’m very excited this is coming to Hancock County,” Cowey said. “It’s big for Hancock County and Weirton.” 

Commissioner Jeff Davis echoed those sentiments. 

“We appreciate all the parties involved for making it a reality,” he said. 

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., visited the Frontier Crossings property in April, learning more about the ongoing redevelopment efforts. She, too, offered her congratulations regarding Thursday’s announcement. 

“Once again, West Virginia has won a highly competitive process to bring new jobs and opportunities to the Mountain State,” Capito said. “Today’s announcement was truly a collaborative effort, and I want to congratulate Governor Justice, Secretary Carmichael, and the leadership of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in working together to bring Form Energy to our Northern Panhandle. If West Virginia is going to continue to be an energy state, we must embrace new technologies, but also tell our story on a national and global level. I look forward to working with the visionary leadership of Form Energy as they ramp up their production in West Virginia, and look forward to more positive developments for our home state in the future.” 

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., noted the importance of such developments for the nation’s economy. 

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for Weirton and the entire Mountain State. Form Energy’s new manufacturing plant will bring clean and innovative energy technologies to West Virginia and put to good use the vast skills of our people to help ensure our country’s energy security. West Virginia continues to be a leader in energy innovation, and the good-paying jobs and new economic opportunities this will bring are exactly what I had in mind as I negotiated the Inflation Reduction Act. I have said it time and again: The path forward is innovation, not elimination, and with this announcement West Virginia and Form Energy are doing just that,” said Manchin 

Form Energy expects to begin construction of its manufacturing facility in 2023, with a start-up sometime in 2024.