On a bright Monday afternoon, I sat down with Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Legal Affairs at Proterra, Eric McCarthy. His office has a sense of organized clutter, a collection of mementos from a life and career fully lived.
There is a palpable excitement about Proterra in Greenville, but you may not know exactly what the company does. Proterra is a company that develops zero-emission electric buses. The buses come in standard lengths of 35 and 40 feet and operate with either a fast charge or an overnight charging system. The Greenville site is the largest manufacturing center for the company and produces buses and some fast charge batteries. A bus produced by the company recently broke a world record for longest distance traveled without recharging, a whopping 1,102 miles. Proterra is revolutionizing the way we think about sustainable public transportation.
A highly technological and sustainable company like Proterra seems like a natural fit for Silicon Valley, and I’m curious about why the company has remained in operation in the Upstate. “That’s the misnomer,” Eric says of the misconception. “I keep hearing from folks ‘when are you moving to California? That was never the case.” “What makes Greenville home for Proterra is the ecosystem of talent we have in the Upstate,” he shares. Developing such new technology takes a lot of capital, both financial and human, and the company benefits from “access to the high-level engineering talent coming out of Clemson and USC, among other schools.” “About a third of our employees on site are engineers,” Eric shares.
Beyond snapping up many of our local engineering graduates, Proterra will soon have another impact on the Greenville community as they will be building new electric buses for the Greenlink fleet. The Greenville Transit Authority received a Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle Program grant from the Federal Trade Administration and will soon be investing in two new Proterra buses. I believe everyone at Proterra would agree with Gary Shepard, Greenlink’s public transportation director, that this is a “win-win-win” for the community.
Proterra is operating at a pivotal time as more area transit networks want to upgrade to a “cleaner and safer mode of public transportation.” “The transit buses that we make may look like the transit buses agencies are currently driving,” Eric says, “but they’re cleaner, they’re quieter, they’re more environmentally friendly, and they’re cheaper over the long haul.” Many agencies are transitioning to electric fleets, and a key marketing objective is convincing these agencies to make the transition as quickly as possible. The buses are popular with transit agencies across the country. “It’s not a red-state product, it’s not a blue-state product,” it’s just a quality product.
Proterra is expanding rapidly, with tremendous growth over the last year and increasing interest from various transit agencies. Fortunately for both Proterra and the Upstate, “it is very easy to stay and grow here in Greenville.”