From Illinois Investment Guide 2021

Central Casting

Pioneering workforce development programs aim to be right on time for tomorrow’s technologies.

Talent & Workforce
New manufacturing academies are coming to Illinois at the same time major investments are too, such as Lion Electric’s $70 million, 745-job electric bus and truck plant in Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Lion Electric

by Adam Bruns

The industries of tomorrow need talent today. Fortunately for them, Illinois was on the case yesterday.

It was October 2020 when Governor JB Pritzker joined the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and industry leaders in announcing that, through a $15 million Notice of Funding Opportunity, Illinois would establish two new Manufacturing Trainings Academies that will expand opportunities for skills training, boost retention of manufacturers in downstate communities, and attract more investment by manufacturing companies throughout Illinois. The funding is part of a broader Rebuild Illinois program that includes major funding to upgrade and expand community colleges.

This significant expansion into the U.S. market will not only allow us to drastically increase our overall manufacturing capacity of electric trucks and buses but to also better serve 
our customers.”

— Marc Bedard, CEO and Founder of Lion Electric

“These new Manufacturing Training Academies will provide 21st century manufacturing training to help more of our residents bring the right skills to the workplace, while helping Illinois companies keep up as they retool to remain competitive for the future,” Pritzker said. “And through this program, we will bring investments where they are most needed, specifically for downstate communities, where these cutting-edge training opportunities have not been as widely available.”

The announcement is part of a broader vision for advanced manufacturing growth in the state that includes a new apprenticeship tax credit, among other programs. The announcement was made at Eden Park Illumination, an Illinois-based start-up company producing unique UV lighting that was borne out of research by professors Dr. Gary Eden and Dr. Sung-Jin Park from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. The company had increased its manufacturing output by a factor of 10 and had tripled hiring. To keep up with current and future demand, the company plans to hire additional manufacturing workers, and like other companies in the region, is seeking skilled labor to fill these roles.  

“To keep up with current and future demand, Illinois companies like ours are making plans today to invest in training and workforce development that will prepare workers for more exciting innovations that lie ahead,” said John Yerger, CEO of Eden Park Illumination. “Future Illinois Manufacturing Training Academies will support Illinois employers by ensuring more local residents are equipped for the increasingly technical jobs of the future.”

At the time, proposals were being sought from community colleges to provide cutting-edge training programs. Fast forward to April 2021, when it was determined the programs would be based at Heartland Community College (HCC) in Normal and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) in the metro east area on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River in the St. Louis metro area. SWIC will see a new advanced manufacturing academy in Belleville, where the first phase creates a new precision machining pathway and a second phase will expand career training for roles in industrial electricity and welding manufacturing.
Joining Pritzker at that April event in Normal was James Chen, vice president of public policy and chief regulatory counsel for electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, the fast-growing Normal employer that hopes to create as many as 1,600 new jobs in the next two years at its new plant in Normal. At Heartland, a $7.5 million grant from the state will enable the development, with Rivian, of the new Electric Vehicle-Energy Storage Manufacturing Training Academy (EVES). Matching state funds with a $1.5 million private employer commitment, HCC will develop a new auto shop used exclusively for training for EV manufacturing. 

“Rivian is honored to have supported the leadership of Governor Pritzker in establishing the Electric Vehicle-Energy Storage Manufacturing Training Academy,” said Chen. “This project will help prepare local workers for the well-paid, technical jobs that the clean energy transition requires.”

Roaring Like a Lion

That transition is coming fast. Illinois jobs in the electric mobility sector are expected to double by 2024. But they’re already picking up the pace as fast as an EV goes from 0-60.
Less than a month after the two manufacturing academy locations were announced in April, Gov. Pritzker stood with leaders from Canadian all-electric medium and heavy-duty urban vehicle maker Lion Electric Company in Joliet to announce the company would invest a minimum of $70 million in a new manufacturing facility that will come online in the second half of 2022 and create at least 745 new jobs. Lion is known for its all-electric school buses.

The momentum behind the manufacturing academies was an attractant. And the state is pressing the accelerator on similar approaches in other sectors. In February 2021 DCEO announced the Illinois Supply Chain Management Training Program in partnership with the Association for Supply Chain Management. As of that date, nearly 2,000 supply chain-focused job opportunities in Illinois were unfilled. In the next five years, more than 500,000 supply chain jobs are expected to be added nationally.

The new program is being piloted with an initial 250 participants in some of the state’s largest supply chain hubs in southern Cook County, Metro East and Southern Illinois. Among the growing companies committed to the program are Continental Tires, Geodis, DB Schenker, Worldwide Technologies, PepsiCo, and Phoenix Elevator.  

Biopharmaceutical company AbbVie is headquartered in North Chicago.
Courtesy of AbbVie

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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