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WGLT, an NPR station in central Illinois, is following every move at the Rivian manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle startup has gone from stealth mode to big-time player in the auto world, attracting attention (and big money) from companies like Ford and Amazon.

Rauner Tries To Clean Up Remarks On Rivian

Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, with state Sen. Bill Brady during a visit to the Rivian plant in March 2017.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is trying to clarify his remarks about Rivian that some local officials saw as demeaning to the electric vehicle automaker.

Springfield Journal-Register reporter Bernard Schoenburg this week asked Rauner about his comments about Rivian made May 11 at a Chicago event. Again criticizing Illinois’ business climate, Rauner spoke about how hard it was to find another auto manufacturer interested in buying the shuttered former Mitsubishi Motors plant in Normal.

“No one would even take the plant if we gave it to them, because our regulations are so hostile to business and our taxes are so high,” Rauner said.

When asked about his comments this week—seemingly ignoring that Rivian had bought the plant—Rauner tried to clarify what he meant. He said that Rivian was “pretty much given the plant.” (The company actually paid $16 million for it.)

“That plant should have well over 1,000 people today,” Rauner told Schoenburg. “We had to cut a deal on the hope, on a gamble, that it might work out, and it’s the best we could do. And hopefully, that will become successful someday.”

On Wednesday, Rauner called in to Sam Wood’s afternoon show on WJBC, looking to further clarify his remarks. He said he didn’t mean that Rivian itself should have 1,000 employees by now; he said he meant that if Illinois were friendlier to businesses—lower taxes and less regulation—some automaker would already have “thousands of jobs” at the plant.

“It’s frustrating because if we had better competitiveness as a state, we could already have thousands of jobs working in and around that facility. That was the point I made, and it’s being spun in not a valid way,” Rauner said on WJBC.

Rivian has more than 40 employees in Normal already. Rivian will receive $49.5 million in state tax credits if it creates 1,000 jobs over 10 years. If those 1,000 jobs do materialize, Rivian would be one of McLean County’s Top 10 largest employers.

“I love Rivian. We worked hard to recruit them. We cut them a deal to give them EDGE tax credits. And I’m all in for them to succeed,” Rauner said.

Rauner’s comments raised eyebrows in Bloomington-Normal.

“We should be championing the success and investment that Rivian has made in our state and our community, and not demeaning it,” said Carlo Robustelli, a Democratic member of the McLean County Board.

“Gov. Rauner can’t have it both ways,” he added. “You can’t have an automotive manufacturing plant that no one wanted to buy because nobody wanted to do business in Illinois, while at the same time have an actual example of a local automotive manufacturing plant that was purchased for $16 million because of its location in Illinois and because of the competitive economic development package offered by state government.”

“We should be celebrating (the Rivian project) together. It’s a great success story. His comments were really bizarre and they’re a little disconnected with the reality.”

A spokesperson for JB Pritzker, the Democrat challenging Rauner in November, said Rauner is “pushing an alternate reality on a local auto plant in a desperate attempt to bring his phony talking points to life.”

“Bruce Rauner is a failure who will lie about things big and small to cover up the damage he’s done to Illinois,” said Pritzker spokesperson Jason Rubin. “Rauner’s own administration celebrated the Rivian deal, but that didn’t stop the failed governor from lying about the plant to attack Democrats and badmouth the state.”

In a statement Thursday, Rivian said it was “excited to be part of the Bloomington-Normal community.”

“We purchased the 2.6 million-square-foot automotive manufacturing facility and its contents in 2017 for $16 million in an all-cash deal and only received performance-based incentives for future job creation and investment,” a spokesperson said. “Rivian has exceeded our target job creation numbers for 2018 and we are on track to continue plant improvements and bring the plant up to full working order to produce our first vehicles which will go on sale in 2020.”

McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard said Rauner wasn’t badmouthing Rivian.

“When you look at what’s happening the rest of the nation, we here in Illinois are lagging,” Beard said. “This frustration is coming from the lack of progress in removing restrictions and improving the economic status of our state to encourage growth with new businesses like Rivian. I do think he was identifying general concerns and issues and what it could be if we didn’t have the challenges we’re facing with state restrictions.

“But I don’t think he was at all down on Rivian. And I think he’s clarified that,” she said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.