‘We’d like you to build it here.’ How Dayton and Ohio won Joby Aviation’s historic eVTOL plant

How Dayton and Ohio advocates came together to make aviation history

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Winning Joby Aviation Inc.’s decision to build a historic manufacturing operation in the Dayton area took a day trip to Yellow Springs, introductions at a Springfield airport, an Air Force Academy friendship — and countless conversations, emails, phone calls, late-night West Coast flights and plain hard work, those involved said in new interviews.

“We were in a long competition to do this, and we won. That’s a big deal,” Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.

Joby Aviation intends to build a manufacturing facility to make electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOL) near Dayton International Airport, having a facility operating by 2025. Employment could reach 2,000 workers, the company and the state have said.

JoeBen Bevirt, Joby founder and chief executive, cited a straightforward trio of reasons for choosing the area: Workforce, incentives and a long relationship with the Air Force.

Joby is finalizing details on an existing space close to the airport, with ground to be broken for new construction next year, Bevirt said in an interview.

An exact location for the project hasn’t been revealed, but the state said the Ohio Department of Development Tax Credit Authority will consider a Job Creation Tax Credit with an estimated value of $93 million, while JobsOhio, the state’s private development arm, is considering a grant of $110 million for Joby as well as workforce services.

“The Dayton community collaborates better than anyone else,” said J.P. Nauseef, president and chief executive of JobsOhio.

Those involved said the effort to court Joby was a natural outcome of long-existing state and local priorities — protecting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and other defense-oriented jobs.

Years of trying to make the state the kind of place where military installations and defense contractors are welcome “gave us the opportunity to be in the game,” Husted said.

“It was an extension of the authentic values and cultures of the community,” Nauseef said. “I mean, the elected officials, the local jurisdictions, the business community, of course the great men and women who serve at Wright-Patterson. This was an authentic expression, put into tactics and strategies.”

“It’s not like this fell into our lap,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition. “It started over a decade ago.”

“We’ve been building this for a long time, we just didn’t know who it was for,” said Shannon Joyce Neal, the coalition’s vice president of strategic communications, attributing the original instance of the remark to Ryan Squire, director of communications for JobsOhio.

‘One of the hardest projects’

The deal didn’t happen just in Dayton. Cross-country flights became almost routine. Micah Newburg, director of projects and business development, aerospace and defense, for the coalition, was among the coalition staffers on the ground in Marina, Calif., as Joby’s first production aircraft was first assembled.

“This was a very long negotiations process with our friends at Joby,” Newburg said. “There were a lot of ups and downs. But we knew they were not going to keep manufacturing in California.”

In all, Joby representatives visited 54 sites to find the right one, Newburg said.

At one point, a local team worked close to 30 hours straight, flying from Dayton (others interrupted Florida vacations to fly from the Sunshine State) to the San Francisco area to meet with Joby representatives, getting back to Ohio late the next evening.

“It meant a lot to him (Bevirt) that we did that in person,” Newburg said.

“It was probably one of the hardest projects, and I’m not talking from a rocket science standpoint,” Hoagland said. “It was everybody rolling up their sleeves, working countless hours to get the deal done.”

What ultimately stood out in Dayton’s favor is the same attribute that Dayton advocates have long emphasized: Location.

Joby was looking east of the Mississippi River, coalition leaders said. Media reports indicated that North Carolina was among the finalists, although Bevirt declined to confirm that.

Joby was and is no stranger to Southwest Ohio. The company has been working with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) “Agility Prime” effort, and AFRL is headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

Elaine Bryant — the coalition’s executive vice president for defense and aerospace matters and a former Air Force officer herself who worked at Wright-Patterson — took Joby representatives inside the base fence to meet AFRL leaders in 2020 and, more recently, gave them a helicopter tour of the region, a trip that offered another unique view of the base.

Trips like that help connect the dots visually, Bryant said.

Wright-Patterson “is really the headquarters, the hub, of Air Force acquisitions writ large,” she said.

Another location advantage: The largest North American plant of Joby’s biggest investor, Toyota’s Georgetown assembly complex, is about two hours away from the region in Northern Kentucky.

“We have Toyota engineers who have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with our team for the past four years in Marina,” Bevirt said. “Some of those employees have spent time in the facility in Kentucky. Being able to tap into the incredible manufacturing prowess of the Toyota team in Kentucky and get them to help ramp (up) our facility in Dayton would be really incredible.”

Relationships helped nudge things in the right direction. Bryant happened to have attended the Air Force Academy with Col. Nathan Diller, former director of the Air Force effort to stoke new technologies, AFWERX. Joby officials had the cell numbers of elected officials at the federal and state level.

Springfield beginnings

Some of the earliest meaningful conversations happened in Springfield in November 2021, with a coalition forum devoted to the advanced air mobility industry hosted at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

Conversations about Joby’s plans were held with Bill Goodwin, Joby deputy general counsel, at the Springfield airport, Husted said.

“We had this initial conversation about, ‘Well, when you build this thing, we’d really like you to build it here,’” Husted recalled.

Driving from the airport that afternoon, the lieutenant governor said he called Hoagland and Bryant, telling them: “OK, we gotta go win this. We gotta win the manufacturing of these aircraft.”

A certain level of selflessness was necessary. Advocates from different parts of the state and the area did not try to pull Joby away from the Dayton area.

“They really put the needs of the region ahead of their own, and they wanted to win for the Dayton community,” Hoagland said. “Now, did each of them want it for their own? Absolutely ... but everyone saw the bigger picture.”

A half-day bus tour with Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife Fran was part of the effort, touring the area and dining at the Mills Park Hotel in Yellow Springs.

Fran DeWine was able to point across Xenia Avenue from the hotel and tell the visitors from Joby where she and her husband went to kindergarten.

“You could tell it was something that struck a chord,” Hoagland said. “Once again, that’s Dayton, that’s Ohio.”

About the Author