NORMAL — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Thursday that Normal is a finalist for a new Samsung battery manufacturing plant that could add thousands of jobs adjacent to Rivian’s facility and cement central Illinois as a Midwestern electric vehicle hub.
Rumors about a potential massive economic development project have swirled in Bloomington-Normal for the past week. Economic Development Council chief Patrick Hoban teased the project Aug. 5 during an event at Illinois Wesleyan, as WGLT first reported. He didn’t specify which industry or company was involved, but said a potential “billion-dollar deal” was possible, and that Bloomington-Normal was one of three finalists for the project.
Speaking Thursday to reporters, Durbin confirmed that project is the Samsung plant.
“We’re competing for a major Samsung battery facility,” Durbin said. “The delegation came from (South) Korea this week. I spoke to them, and others did as well. This Samsung facility, we hope, would be located next door to Rivian. That decision has not been made. Having that battery facility will also create thousands of jobs.”
State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, told WGLT on Thursday that he’s heard the Samsung plant will employ up to 3,200 people.
Samsung SDI is Rivian’s battery cell supplier. Samsung has reportedly been searching for a location for a battery cell plant in the U.S. Reuters reported that Samsung has been in talks with automakers, including Rivian, to supply batteries from that new factory.
Samsung is expected to make a site-selection decision in September, said Normal Mayor Chris Koos.
“We’re blessed in central Illinois to have this kind of expansion of opportunity, particularly with electric vehicles. The vehicles of the future,” Durbin said.
It’s unclear what mix of state and local incentives might be in play to land Samsung. The project has been discussed for at least six months, and is being referred to privately as “Project Maximus,” officials said. (Code names are common in economic development work.)
Koos said a local incentive package was being presented, including a property tax abatement. Other selling points, he said, were roadwork on West College Avenue and utility work that would extend sewer toward Normal’s west edge.
Koos declined to confirm or deny the company involved was Samsung.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) also is involved, suggesting state incentives may be in play. It was a combination of state and local incentives that landed Rivian back in 2016. Gov. JB Pritzker is reportedly meeting with Samsung on Friday.
“The Pritzker administration is bullish about building a clean energy future for Illinois – and part of that is making a concerted effort to boost electric vehicle and supplier manufacturing here in Illinois,” DCEO spokesperson Lauren Huffman said Thursday. “We remain in regular conversation with a number of companies in this space but it is against our policy to comment on any specifics.”
“Normal on its own has so many great things to offer. But coupled with what could be done statewide, I believe, is what the company is reviewing right now,” Brady said.
The Samsung plant would be built just west of the Rivian facility.
Rivian itself began vehicle production this year in Normal. It’s making electric trucks, SUVs, and delivery vans (for Amazon). The automaker also is planning a second U.S. plant in a location that’s yet to be decided.
Durbin said Thursday that Rivian’s Normal workforce may reach as high as 5,000 people “when they reach their optimum capacity.” That’s higher than previous estimates provided by the company. A Rivian spokesperson told WGLT in July that the Normal plant could have as many as 4,000 workers by the end of 2022.
Durbin appears to have updated information: He met virtually with Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe last week.
If Samsung builds here, the two companies would combined have an estimated 8,300 manufacturing sector jobs. There’s a question whether the region can supply that many workers.
Hoban, the local EDC chief, said that should not be a problem.
“Our labor shed in Bloomington-Normal is 50 miles. Within that 50-mile radius is 750,000 workers, and 10% of those, or 75,000, are manufacturing. I think we’re well-positioned to continue to support manufacturing going forward,” Hoban said.
If Samsung does open a plant in Normal, it would be easy for its employees to travel between its U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif. or to South Korea, or to another Samsung battery plant in Auburn Hills, Mich., according to the Central Illinois Regional Airport director.
“We know this because, of course, earlier this year when Rivian announced a business partnership with Samsung, we were on that,” said Carl Olson. “We were talking to Delta Airlines and showing them how we could use the Delta service from Detroit to Bloomington-Normal to get these Samsung people back and forth.”
Olson said Rivian business travel has been strong enough that CIRA started new non-stop business service to Detroit during a pandemic. He said performance on that route was good enough to prompt Delta to add 50% more seats to Detroit this spring.