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The region received another economic jolt in the arm Wednesday when it was announced that Heartland Community College will be home to a training academy focused on electric vehicles and energy storage.

This is exactly the kind of investment that prepares Central Illinois for the future — and underscores that Rivian Automotive may be just the start.

After years in development, the electric vehicle startup is nearing the highly anticipated production phase in the formerly shuttered Mitsubishi plant in Normal.

The 2021 Rivian R1T will be the first mass-market electric pickup truck. And it will pack a punch: The initial Launch Edition will wield 735 horsepower and can hit 60 mph in 3 seconds, with a range of 300 miles between charges. The price tag: $75,000

Rivian has been all-in on Normal since investing $16 million here in 2016, with the help of various incentives. Since then, the company has been snapping up land around the plant, including 380 acres recently.

All of this is happening, we should note, during a global pandemic that has hobbled wide swaths of the economy.

We are fortunate the story is a positive one.

Every indication points to the region becoming a hub of electric vehicle production.

A report by the trade group Advanced Energy Economy estimates the number of electric transportation sector jobs in Illinois is poised to double by 2024, to about 9,500.

CarGurus.com survey found that 54% of vehicle owners expect to own an electric one in the next 10 years, and President Joe Biden wants to spend $15 billion to begin rolling out electric vehicle charging stations. As many as 500,000 would be in place by 2030.

Amazon, Ford and other power players are all jockeying for positions. Rivian alone is valued at $28 billion.

In other words, there’s a “there” there.

Having a highly trained workforce is clearly a crucial piece in the puzzle. We already know Central Illinois produces hardworking, committed employees. The Heartland program will give them the skills to accelerate in this fledging sector of the economy.

The state is providing $7.5 million and another $1.5 million is coming from the private sector. A six-bay electric vehicle lab is expected to be in place by 2022.

That investment and commitment to growing a local, specialized workforce will make our region even more desirable to companies looking to grow. They’ll come here.

And we’ll be ready.

https://www.pantagraph.com/opinion/editorial/our-view-rivian-making-normal-thrive/article_724a834c-cdc0-5fb2-8b64-20bc2ed4f0c2.html