NORMAL — Rivian Automotive took a big step Monday toward making electric cars at the former Mitsubishi plant in Normal to hit the market in 2019.
The Normal City Council approved a $1 million grant and five-year tax abatement — both based on performance — for the automaker, which plans to buy the plant and manufacture there, employing 1,000 workers and investing $175 million in the site through 2024.
"There's so much to gain, and, from our perspective, not much to lose," said council member R.C. McBride of the deal, which requires Rivian to employ 500 workers and invest $40.5 million in the plant by the end of 2021 to get the incentives.
The abatement also needs to be approved by Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 schools, Heartland Community College and other local taxing bodies. Heartland will consider it Tuesday, and Unit 5 on Wednesday.
"Anything worth a desired result comes with risk," said council member Jeff Fritzen. "We feel the risk we've been presented here to consider is worth (it)."
The council first interviewed Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe, who said his company is excited to begin manufacturing in a community with an established base of auto manufacturing employees that's also in close proximity to its suppliers.
"This is a competitive process," said Scaringe of why the company needs the tax breaks, given how much it plans to spend on the site. Rivian, he said, also has looked into other manufacturing sites that meet it criteria.
The company already has research locations in the Detroit and San Francisco areas with about 100 employees. It was founded in Florida in 2009.
Scaringe said the company left Florida to get closer to its suppliers. The company received a grant from the state of Florida to complete specific work, he said — neither the grant amount nor the work was specified — and never promised to continue to operate there.
Rivian received a deal from the state of Michigan in 2015 that was very similar to the one approved by Normal on Monday. Scaringe said some development operations, which are split between California and Michigan, might come to Normal — as well as some Rivian suppliers.
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Scaringe said he needs to be vague for now about the sources of Rivian's funding and the car it plans to make, but the company is close to manufacturing. Local officials drove a prototype last week.
"It made me feel better that that's a real car and it's very impressive," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson of driving the prototype. "They have substantial liquid assets. They are well-positioned financially."
Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council CEO Kyle Ham, who led a task force to find a manufacturer for the plant, referred to the agreement as the last chance for Normal to salvage it. The plant is now owned by Maynards Industries, an industrial asset liquidation company with offices in Michigan.
Maynards bought the plant in June, the month after Mitsubishi closed it for good after ending production and laying off about 1,200 in November 2015. Maynards has twice delayed auctioning the building, which would have likely resulted in its demolition.
Marc Tiritilli, who is running for mayor against incumbent Chris Koos, said that scenario is preferable to Rivian failing at the site and Normal paying to raze the facility or trying to sell it in poor condition.
"We're here basically out of fear," he said. "Rivian is the worst option."
Koos said "they're the ones that have all the risk."
"I'm all in," he said.
Scaringe acknowledged that the company has operated in secret in the past but will be much more transparent going forward.
"Rivian eventually is going to make vehicles," said Jerry Berwanger, once the plant’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, during the meeting, "and I would like for that to be here in the town of Normal."