By Sierra Henry

Rivian Automotive’s workforce has tripled over the past seven months, bringing a hotbed of activity to the area surrounding the sprawling electric vehicle factory on the outskirts of Normal.

Along West College Avenue, it also has restored something that’s gone mostly dormant ever since Mitsubishi Motors packed up in 2015: traffic.

“It’s most definitely a boost,” said Mark Risley, branch manager of Richards Building Supply, which sells windows, doors, vinyl siding and roofing a short distance from the plant. “You get a lot more notoriety when people are driving past, they see our sign, they see our trucks, they see our products. I think it’s definitely going to put us out there a little more.”

Starting with 650 employees in January, Rivian’s expansive campus now has more than 2,100 people on site, in addition to several hundred construction workers.

The electric vehicle startup, which has backers including Amazon and Ford, acquired the 2.6 million-square-foot Mitsubishi plant in 2017. The company is getting various state and local incentives for meeting employment benchmarks, with predictions that it could rival industry juggernaut Tesla.

So far, the company is developing an all-electric sport-utility vehicle and pickup, as well as delivery vehicles for Amazon. The debut truck, which will start at $67,500, is set to launch in September.

The added manpower has caused ripples through the area, with several nearby businesses reporting higher interest in location and services.

Summers Platt, 46, of Bloomington, who works at a company on West College Avenue, said she’s noticed the uptick.

“I think any type of business coming in, especially a company the size of Rivian, bringing the type of business and job opportunities that are there, it think it’s good for any city,” said Platt.

Risley said employees getting off work used to coast out of the parking lot without any hassle, but now it may take a minute or two before getting onto the road.

But that’s not a bad thing, Risley said.

“We appreciate having the additional traffic and we have definitely picked up a couple customers who probably wouldn’t have seen us before,” he said.

‘It’s good for any city’

The buzz of activity is an about-face for the area around the plant, developed in the 1980s as a joint venture between Chrysler Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. As many as 3,000 worked there at the peak. Operations ceased in November 2015.

Rivian, founded in 2009, bought the factory for $16 million as it was readying for production — and has been expanding the site and snapping up surrounding land ever since.

The company is leasing about 500,000 square feet at North Main Street and Kerrick Road. In April, it acquired 380 acres near the factory for future expansions.

But there have been setbacks. Various delays were tied to COVID-19. The launch of the pickup truck set for this summer was pushed to September on Friday. The company cited a global shortage of semi-conductors, an especially challenging hurdle for high-tech vehicles.

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