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Heartland Community College Receives $7.5 Million State Investment To Fund Manufacturing Programs

Chen speaks with Pritzker
Christine Hatfield
Rivian Vice President of Public Policy James Chen talks with Gov. JB Pritzker in front of a Rivian truck following a press conference at Heartland Community College. Heartland will collaborate with Rivian on new manufacturing training programs.

Normal's Heartland Community College is one of two schools set to receive millions of dollars in investments from the state to set up new training programs in manufacturing. Heartland is collaborating with electric automaker Rivian on a first-of-its kind program.

Heartland Community College and Southwestern Illinois College both will receive $7.5 million from the state over the next few years for programs on electric vehicles, energy storage and precision manufacturing. That'll make associate degrees in industrial and electric vehicle technology available to students at the Normal campus.

Heartland President Keith Cornille said the Electric Vehicle–Energy Storage Manufacturing Training Academy, or EVES, will give students an affordable path toward living and working in the community.

"These programs come at a critical time, as we sustain our commitment to work-ready programs that advance individuals quickly into a growing workforce," said Cornille. "We are making investments to shape a community that supports homegrown talent because these students enter the workforce directly."

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday at HCC, Gov. JB Pritzker said he wants workers to be prepared for an influx of manufacturing jobs into the state.

"I'm committed to building in Illinois that is focused on the high-quality skilled labor and developing that so that we can maintain our manufacturing prowess for generations to come," said Pritzker. "It's very important to recognize that job creation, job skills, matching those jobs and job skills together, that's what's going to get us out of the economic recession that we went into as a result of the pandemic."

Pritzker said while more companies already are offering manufacturing jobs in Illinois, workers might not have the skills to fill those positions.

"It's community colleges and others who create those opportunities, who just provide the skill development for our labor force so that they can fill those great jobs," said Pritzker. "Manufacturing savvy and capability is just as important to the economy as the, and the future, of course, as it is to the economy of the past."

Pritzker said he wants to make sure nobody gets left behind.

"Both of these manufacturing academies are dedicated to bringing underrepresented populations into the fold, so that women and Black and brown residents know that they, too, must have an equal stake in our manufacturing industry," said Pritzker.

The governor also is pushing back against concerns over high business taxes deterring companies from coming to Illinois. He said that's just one part of the costs of running a business.

"If you've got a labor force that can do the job that you need, that's very important to most businesses," said Pritzker. "It's more important than just saying, 'Is there a half a percent tax difference between one state or another?'"

Rivian, for example, has a manufacturing plant in Normal. Its first EVs will be delivered to customers in a few months. It's expected to have around 1,800 employees by June.

James Chen is the company's vice president of public policy. He said the state is leading the way in serving electric vehicle manufacturers and workers. Chen said the company's collaboration with Heartland on training programs is an example of that. 

"We are only in the early stages of electric transportation revolution, and competition for skilled workers will only increase," said Chen. "Participants in this academy can be confident that their skills will be highly valued for years to come."

Sylvia Garcia, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said she wants the state to be able to play a bigger role in the global economy.

"Companies tell us all the time about their need for workers trained in the latest technologies, so they can enhance their productivity and global competitiveness," said Garcia. "We know that Illinois workers can deliver if given the right resources to do so."

She said it's the perfect time for programs like the ones being started at Heartland.

"Programs like this one will help us ensure Illinois residents regardless of where they live are prepared to seize on this growth and the high-paying jobs that will bring," said Garcia.

Brian Durham, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, said the state's investments will allow schools like Heartland to keep up with innovations in manufacturing so they can continue to serve the companies that come to the state.

"Community colleges already bring to the table significant faculty expertise to the variety of program areas that they work in," said Durham. "Illinois community colleges add skills to our workforce and boost the competitiveness of our businesses."

Pritzker praised state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, for his role in making the programs happen. Pritzker said for all that Republicans and Democrats disagree on, there's much the parties do agree on.

"Sometimes behind closed doors, you know, we're talking to one another and working together to try to figure out what's the best thing to do to grow our economy and particularly to get us out of this pandemic-induced economic challenge that we face," said Pritzker.

Pritzker said the new training programs in manufacturing are just one example of that.

Heartland Community College and Southwestern Illinois College were chosen for the investments after an application process that began in October.

Heartland is hoping to start its electric vehicle program in collaboration with Rivian by this fall. The college expects to start the energy storage program and have permanent facilities in place for the new certificates and degrees by 2023.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.