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B-N Visitors Impressed After Rivian Trip To Michigan

Scaringe speaks at podium
Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council
Rivian Founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe speaks at the Normal plant in March 2017 during a visit from Gov. Bruce Rauner and other elected officials.

Two community leaders who got a peek behind the Rivian curtain Monday say they returned from Michigan more optimistic about the EV startup's future.

The Bloomington-Normal delegation visited Rivian’s vehicle and engineering facility outside Detroit. The delegation included representatives from several of the local governments that approved tax breaks for the electric vehicle startup when it purchased the shuttered Mitsubishi Motors plant in Normal.

Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe spoke to the visitors for about 90 minutes. The visitors saw model vehicles, mockups, and some virtual reality technology, but not an actual vehicle, said Normal Town Council R.C. McBride.

“They are further along than I had imagined they would be,” said McBride, also general manager at GLT.

Rivian, which also has a facility in California, employs more than 40 people so far at the Normal manufacturing plant. The stealthy startup hasn’t said much publicly about its vehicles, which are expected to be electric with heavy reliance on autonomous-driving technology. The first vehicle will be a five-passenger truck, introduced in 2020, followed by a seven-passenger SUV.

The trip was a first step toward satisfying public curiosity about Rivian, said McBride, who supported the town’s investment in the company.

McBride said he was “cautious believer” before the trip.

“Seeing it certainly changed my perspective. I am much more optimistic and frankly more excited about what they’re going to be able to bring to our community in the coming years,” McBride said.

Unit 5 schools, the Town of Normal, and other taxing bodies agreed to a five-year, 100 percent property tax abatement if Rivian met certain hiring and plant investment thresholds. The Town of Normal also agreed to provide Rivian a $1 million grant once Rivian invests $20 million in the plant.

Rivian is also on track to receive $49.5 million in state tax credits for the creation of 1,000 jobs over 10 years. If those jobs do materialize, Rivian would be one of McLean County’s Top 10 largest employers.

“They’re not talking about what industry or world is going to look like a year from now, or two years from now, or five years from now,” McBride said. “They’re talking in terms of 10, 20, 30 years. They’re talking generationally. To me that’s exciting. I don’t know that American business does that enough. It seems like we all live and die on what the stock market does on any given day.”

Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel also traveled to Michigan on Monday.

“I went in there cautiously, and I left thinking they are committed and wanting to move forward and make connections to kids in high school or even earlier with STEM work. Connections with apprenticeships. That follow-through is starting to happen, and we’re looking forward to that,” he said.

Daniel said he was impressed with how Rivian’s Michigan employees are working virtually with other staff in Illinois and California. The “millennial-type” work environment was open concept, with people working side by side, he said.

“They’re able to flow across from one side of the building to the other so they can immediately start asking questions. ‘OK, that might be research and design. How does that impact engineering? How does that impact us when we start laying out production?” Daniel said.

The local delegation left Monday morning and returned late Monday night. Daniel said others on the trip included representatives from the City of Bloomington, State Farm, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, the Economic Development Council, and the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, among others.

“It’s not a façade. It’s happening. It’s just a matter of how fortunate they will be when they launch,” Daniel added.

Full segment from GLT.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.