At the least, the effort would help state retain what it has.
The hope of a stronger manufacturing economy in Illinois may lie in a 100-page piece of legislation sitting before the Legislature this week.
In the grandiloquent style of legislative promotion the bill is called the
Reimagining Electric Vehicles in Illinois Act.
At the least, the legislation would help the state retain what it already has: three comparatively jobs-rich automobile manufacturing plants in Chicago, Belvidere and Normal. And ideally, the legislation would allow the state to build on that foundation and attract more electric-vehicle investment in Illinois.
There is already plenty of competition for the flourishing electric-vehicle industry. Tennessee and Kentucky already have lured billions of investment from Ford and SK Innovation into an electric-vehicle assembly plant, battery factories and a logistics park. Both states offered millions in incentives, including forgivable loans and job-training grants. Michigan, long the center of the U.S. auto industry, has promised to fight to keep all that it has.
Illinois, though, has competitive advantages that it can use to entice the electric-vehicle industry: relativity low electricity costs; a central location with a strong transportation network; a robust education system, particularly at the community-college level, where job training is essential; strong electrical engineering programs at the University of Illinois and other schools; and the ability, as a large state, to come up with an attractive package of incentives.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who earlier this month said that Illinois would “stake out our ground in this booming industry and bring thousands of new jobs to our state,” has plenty of work remaining if he hopes to pull off this feat. Most notably, he has to bring his allies in organized labor on board in negotiating with companies that have shown an aversion to working with unions.
Illinois’ manufacturing base already includes the Rivian electric-vehicle plant in Normal, a longtime Ford assembly plant in south Chicago and a Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) assembly plant in Belvidere that has been shut down because of a global shortage of microchips. The latter plant is most in need of a sign from the state government that it is serious about investing in electric vehicles. Stellantis said this summer, it would invest about $35 billion in electric-vehicle production and software through 2025. It did not say whether the Belvidere plant, which employs about 2,500 people, is in the running for the retooling.
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association has endorsed Pritzker’s efforts and the new bill, saying it would “attract economic investment and grow good-paying manufacturing jobs.” That would be a welcome development in a state that has lost so many manufacturing jobs over the last several decades.
Reversing that course and making Illinois a center of the electric-vehicle industry will require not just incentives but lasting partnerships between government and industry and business and labor.