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Bloomington-Normal's role in 'electric vehicle revolution' attracts visit from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Bloomington-Normal is at the center of the “electric vehicle revolution” during a visit Saturday.

One of Buttigieg’s stops was the Electric Vehicle Energy Storage worker training program at Heartland Community College. The Heartland program, which has received $7.5 million in state money, is temporarily headquartered in a building on Martin Luther King Drive in Bloomington; state capital funds will help construct a permanent facility on the Heartland campus in Normal.

One of Heartland’s key partners in the training program is electric automaker Rivian, which is making its trucks, SUVs, and vans in Normal. The Amazon-backed company already has over 4,400 workers in Normal.

Buttigieg was joined at the Heartland training site by Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

Heartland electric vehicle and industrial maintenance instructor Mike Deavers led the group on a tour of the facility, which is equipped to maintain multiple makes and models of EVs.

Pointing to the Rivian R1T on display and sporting an “I heart trucks” button, Pritzker said, “That’s a good truck!” and said that he had one on order.

Following the tour, three Heartland students and a representative from Rivian who is working with the program demonstrated to their guests some of the electrical and mechanical systems they were maintaining and how they differed from systems in conventional vehicles.

Pointing to the Rivian R1T on display and sporting an “I heart trucks” button, Gov. JB Pritzker said, “That’s a good truck!” and said that he had one on order.
Jordan Mead
Pointing to the Rivian R1T on display and sporting an “I heart trucks” button, Gov. JB Pritzker said, “That’s a good truck!” and said that he had one on order.

The VIPs then took some time to address the media, extolling the job-creating, climate-saving virtues of the emerging U.S. EV industry as well as the new and pending legislation that would support it.

“We believe there’s a strong policy role to make sure the EV revolution happens quickly enough to beat climate change, that it happens on equitable terms and benefits every American, and that it is a ‘Made in America’ electric vehicle revolution. And you see all of those goals at play in what’s going on right here in the Bloomington-Normal area,” Buttigieg said Saturday, sitting with fellow Democratic heavy-hitters in front of a Rivian-made Amazon delivery van.

“The program here at Heartland is enormously important as an example of what we’ll be doing all across the state,” Pritzker said. “This is all part of what we’re trying to get the workforce ready for, because these are great paying jobs, and we’re attracting them to our state now.”

Obliquely referencing the stalled Build Back Better bill by looking toward the senators, Buttigieg also praised Pritzker for “not waiting for Washington” with his signature of the 2021 REV Act and Climate and Equitable Jobs Act as well as 2019’s $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital plan.

The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that recently passed includes $7.5 billion in investments for EV charging. Illinois is eligible to receive nearly $22 million in federal grants in Fiscal Year 2022 and nearly $150 million over five years to help build out EV charging across the state. States’ proposals for USDOT grant money for charging stations are due Aug. 1, and Pritzker indicated his administration would be acting swiftly to build out the new infrastructure.

“We certainly want to be earlier than later,” Pritzker said. “In order to be successful in EVs, we’ve got to have charging stations everywhere in the state. These dollars that are available for us to get from the Department of Transportation, this is something that we’re going to be very aggressive about going after.”

Earlier Saturday, Buttigieg participated in a roundtable discussion with Heartland Community College officials about EV training. He also met with Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe and Normal Mayor Chris Koos. His final stop of the day was the Normal Fire Department’s headquarters station for a demonstration on how to properly install a child car seat.

Buttigieg's visit did not include a stop at the Rivian plant, just 4 miles away from the Rivian training site. A Rivian spokesperson said the company was in contact with Buttigieg's "staff but weren't able to coordinate schedules for all parties."

President Biden name-dropped Rivian for the first time earlier this week.

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Philip Walker is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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