The Bloomington-Normal community was charged up Thursday after Amazon announced its 100,000-van purchase from Rivian—the largest order ever for electric delivery vehicles.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos said he hopes this reduces the amount of suspicion some people still have about the Rivian plant and the tax breaks used to bring the company to central Illinois.
"It's such great news for the community," Koos said. "All the talk about Illinois has nothing to offer; Illinois is a state you should leave, this should put a dent in that kind of conversation. I mean it's incredible news. Name another community in the Midwest our size or slightly bigger that shuttered an automotive plant and then had it reborn!"
Koos acknowledged the nearly $1.7 billion investment in Rivian this year, coupled with the Amazon order for vans, might not sway some. He said a few people won't believe it till it starts happening.
"There are just some dystopian attitudes in the community. It just seems like they want it to fail," said Koos.
Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council Vice President Zach Dietmeier said the 10,000 vans in the first year increases expected annual production in the early years of the Normal manufacturing plant by about a third.
"If they were talking about from the commercial side 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles per year, this really increases what they'll be cranking out of the factory in Normal, which is exciting news for us. It is a real advertisement we will put out as a community that if you would like to be involved in electric vehicle production, McLean County is the place to be. We're going to need the workforce," said Dietmeier.
The progress the company has made this year might raise questions whether success is happening too fast and whether there are enough available workers to build all those vehicles. Koos said he is not worried.
"You know when Mitsubishi was at full production (200,000 vehicles a year), the employee base was regional and not local. And I think you are going to see the same thing at Rivian going forward," said Koos.
Return of Suppliers?
Dietmeier said the announcement may also boost inquiries from suppliers focused on commercial shipping or transportation who might want to locate near the plant. Many of the suppliers who used to serve the Mitsubishi plant have moved along or closed, Dietmeier said.
"It's definitely the No. 1 call we get and probably the No. 1 conversation we have from an economic development standpoint with the surrounding communities about interest from companies coming back. And that can be anything from a parts provider to logistics and technology," he said.
The number and kind of outside vendors Rivian will need has been clouded. Dietmeier said the company's desire to keep its technology close to the vest contributed to the uncertainty, but the continued good news announcements, he believes, might change this mindset.
"It would not shock me that they would need more of these suppliers than they were originally planning for," said Dietmeier. "We were hoping that it would bring suppliers back and I think we are much more confident now that those locations and new locations will be needed."
Rivian now has around 130 employees in Normal. That's expected to grow to 1,000 workers by 2024. All those people will need some place to live.
"Local Realtors have mentioned that what has maintained strong summer sales is a lot of Rivian traffic coming into the community," said Dietmeier.
Official summer numbers have yet to be released by the Bloomington-Normal Association of Realtors.
The developer that plans to build luxury apartments in the former State Farm building in Bloomington said the jobs that should stem from Rivian's 10,000-van order from Amazon leaves them more convinced they won't have a problem keeping its building full.
Jim Hagerty, spokesperson for Rockford-based Urban Equity Partners (UEP), said the company already saw Bloomington-Normal as a growing community.
“Now you have on top of that, a company that’s just carving out its own niche right there in the community with potentially a large group of people coming in,” Hagerty said. “That can only be great for UEP but great for Bloomington.”
Hagerty said while Rivian wasn't on the developer's radar initially, they see the automaker’s potential to grow the community's housing demand.
“It’s one of those companies that will start out small, 70, maybe 80 employees, but it has a larger vision obviously,” Hagerty said. “It’s going after clientele like Amazon. I don’t know if you can get much bigger than that when it comes to what they do.”
UEP plans to close on purchase of the State Farm building next month.
The EDC acknowledged there is cause now to do an economic impact study on the plant to help the EDC tell the community story.
"We are definitely going to need to see how some of these big investment announcements and these big changes, especially today, how that's going to impact what that estimate is," said Dietmeier. "There has been so much in the dark with Rivian being in stealth mode, and now that we're getting a more holistic picture of what this means for the company and region, we will need to do it fairly soon."
Rivian reports its hiring and investment targets to the EDC for an end-of-year report. That's required because of local and state tax breaks Rivian received to buy the plant.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.