It was encouraging this past week to see some real movement in what has become the two most important economic development successes of the past year.
First, Rivian Automotive, which announced in December 2016 that it was taking over the former Mitsubishi auto plant, released a timetable for its first vehicles.
Secondly, Brandt Group of Companies announced it officially closed on the former Kongskilde plant in rural Normal and was starting to review a flood of applications for future jobs there.
While there remains a long way to go for both ventures to be fully engaged in the community, signs are that both will succeed.
In the case of Rivian, the Michigan-based electric car startup plans to release a five-passenger truck in 2020, followed by a seven-passenger SUV.
The company has completed prototypes and is testing them, according to a Rivian.com job posting seeking more local employees.
"By the fourth quarter of 2019 they want to be producing vehicles for sale, and they will probably go on the market in early 2020," Normal City Manager Mark Peterson told The Pantagraph.
He added that about a dozen full-time employees work at the plant, including former Mitsubishi employees, and Rivian feels "extremely positive" about the facility that it bought in January after Mitsubishi halted manufacturing there in 2015.
Rivian's ultimate goal is to employ 1,000 workers and invest $175 million at the plant by 2024. The company is required to employ 500 and invest $40.5 million by 2021 to receive five-year abatements from local taxing bodies that include Unit 5, the Town of Normal and Heartland Community College.
Brandt, obviously, is not as far along, but — like Rivian — it has a plant that is ready to be re-purposed for its needs that include manufacturing various agriculture products such as augers and belt conveyors.
The fact that both companies found modern facilities to start their respective ventures is one of the positives of all the behind-the-scenes negotiations that resulted in them committing to McLean County.
No one wanted to see either of those plants sitting empty.
Like Rivian, Brandt has to hit certain performance goals, most notably specific employment numbers, to secure property tax abatements involving most of the same taxing bodies.
And, it should be noted, Kongskilde is remaining in the Twin City area, so those jobs are not leaving. The company does not employ as many workers as it did a year ago when it built a $10 million expansion of the plant that Brandt now owns.
But it is taking over sizable warehouse and office space in Normal where, Central Region Sales Manager Travis Thornton told The Pantagraph, “Our goal is to continue to grow. We’re potentially on the verge of one of our best years ever."
The same can be said for Rivian and Brandt, the best Christmas gift local economic development officials can hope for.