Pritzker focuses on business development, clean energy jobs

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Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at the grand opening of a new Lion Electric assembly plant in Will County. The Canada-based company specializes in medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles, including electric school buses. (Credit: Illinois.gov)

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker has spent much of his time in recent weeks promoting the state’s electric vehicle industry and touting the impact of his signature Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, or CEJA, including during a weeklong trade mission to the United Kingdom.

On Friday, Pritzker was in Joliet where he joined other elected officials and local dignitaries to celebrate the grand opening of a new Lion Electric assembly plant, the first new automotive factory in the greater Chicago area since 1965.

Lion Electric announced plans to build its new facility in May 2021, just as state lawmakers were negotiating the final details of CEJA. The Canadian-based company specializes in medium and heavy-duty all-electric vehicles, including electric school buses.

The 900,000 square foot facility in Will County is expected to employ about 1,400 people and have a production capacity of 20,000 buses and trucks per year.

The Lion Electric factory opening came on the same day that the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced $38 million in funding availability to develop 13 regional “CEJA Workforce hubs,” a training program that’s intended to prepare people for entry-level jobs in the clean energy industry.

Speaking at the Lion plant Friday, Pritzker outlined some of the state’s EV manufacturing and workforce development programs included in CEJA, the 2021 law that will require 100 percent carbon-free energy production in the state by 2045.

“This is about more than just cars on the road. It’s also about making sure that we have the buses, the community experience of the new clean energy economy,” Pritzker said, directing his comments toward younger people in the audience. “Because while all of that is very important, it’s predicated on having a planet that’s environmentally sustainable for your generation and beyond.”

The event came on the heels of a weeklong trade mission that Pritzker led to the United Kingdom, where he and 41 other state government and business officials spent much of their time promoting Illinois’ electric vehicle industry and its clean energy initiatives.

Among the events they attended in the U.K. was the Goodwood Festival of Speed, an annual motorsports festival in southeast England, where Pritzker said the delegation met with officials from many auto manufacturing companies, including some in the EV industry.

“Goodwood attracts the senior executive teams from, really, all of the major automotive companies across the world,” Pritzker said during a virtual news conference just before leaving the U.K. “So it’s a great place to go to meet everybody all at once, everybody from Mercedes to Toyota to Ford, and all the other companies that you can think of, and also some of the startup companies as well, many of the EV suppliers.”

In addition to promoting the state’s clean energy industry, Pritzker said the U.K. trip was also an opportunity to tout Illinois’ assets in the emerging field of quantum computing, as well as more traditional industries such as financial services, hospitality, manufacturing and food processing.

But he said the state’s clean energy initiatives, and CEJA in particular, have become big selling points when marketing Illinois to an international audience.

“Don’t underestimate that here in the U.K. and across Europe, the idea that we are focused on (being) fossil fuel-free by 2050 … is quite important to them,” he said. “When they think about states – Mississippi or, you know, I could name lots of states that don’t have climate policy – they know that their customers expect them to be producing products using clean energy, and that can’t be done, or at least not enough of it, in those other states.”

The delegation that travelled to the U.K. included Pritzker and his wife MK, several members of his staff, several officials from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, higher education officials and executives from several Illinois-based companies.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the Pritzkers paid for their own travel and the state paid the expenses of state employees. But a final cost of the trip was not yet available because not all participants had yet submitted their expense reports.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association. Muddy River News also supports their mission.

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