Let’s get the word out about Illinois and EVs – Crain’s Chicago Business

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The nation needs to know that Rivian’s first electric truck is being made not in Detroit, not in Silicon Valley — but in Normal, Ill.

The nation needs to know that Motortrend has described that truck, which hits 60 miles per hour in about 3 seconds, as “the most remarkable pickup we’ve ever driven.” 

The nation needs to know that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has introduced a sweeping piece of legislation — a set of policies to encourage the burgeoning electric vehicle industry to invest more here.

The nation needs to know that the state has awarded $7.5 million to Normal’s Heartland Community College to launch a program to train electric vehicle technicians, so that Rivian and its suppliers have the skilled labor they need.

The nation needs to know that Illinois State University, just a 10-minute drive away from the plant, is planning to invest $44 million to launch an engineering school, again so Rivian and its suppliers have the skilled labor they need.

The nation needs to know that Normal is about an hour’s drive from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, home to one of the nation’s fastest supercomputers and one of the world’s best engineering schools. In 2020, the U of I System’s computer science, computer engineering and data science programs graduated more than 2,700 students.

The nation needs to know that Normal is perfectly located at the intersection of Interstates 39, 55 and 74, and in the center of one of the most densely connected rail networks in the world. That means easy access to suppliers and customers.

The nation needs to know that large swaths of the area are in enterprise zones or tax increment financing districts, both of which offer numerous benefits to business owners. 

The nation needs to know that a 500,000-square-foot addition to the North Normal Industrial Park is being built for Rivian suppliers. (Rivian itself leased all of phase one.)

And the nation needs to know that just up the road, in Joliet, an electric bus maker named Lion Electric is adding hundreds of jobs for its first U.S. manufacturing facility.

The nation needs to know that Rivian and Lion are but the start of a boom in Illinois’ green economy, and our leaders in the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors all understand the recipe for it:  

  1. A skilled workforce unburdened by college debt. 
  2. New green infrastructure, such as industrial parks, roads and charging stations.
  3. Smart tax policy that both rewards businesses and supports anti-poverty programs.

Illinoisans need to know that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we all must rally behind. 

Road vehicles account for a staggering 15% of global carbon emissions, and the pollutants from vehicles are often concentrated in low-income communities. The most recent clean energy bill passed in Illinois targets an impressive 1 million new electric vehicles in our state by 2030. 

Companies will invest about $350 billion in the next two years to hit these and other goals, and transform the way we make cars — expenditures that are not only good for our economy but good for our planet.

We have confidence that Illinois leaders will seize this moment to help our workers and our environment, but you need to know there’s one more ingredient that can’t be left out. 

The national media will report on Normal’s electric vehicle-powered revival, but most will do so only once, and always with the healthy skepticism the profession requires. 

An advertising campaign, however, can hammer the message repeatedly and confidently. “The EV Adventure Starts in Illinois,” for instance, could promote tourism and our economy. Or “Illinois: Where Rivians are Made” could promote our advanced manufacturing training programs. Or we could create “The Green Route 66,” which could highlight both our efforts to combat climate change and our central location.

No matter what the ads say, they will show manufacturing workers in Illinois cheering as these sleek trucks roll off the assembly line. 

Such a campaign would be a savvy move. Because if no one outside of Illinois knows what our state is doing to foster its green economy, no one will come.

Chandra Brown is CEO of digital manufacturing institute MxD and the former deputy assistant secretary of manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Brad Henderson is CEO of P33.