Skepticism and opposition surfaced quickly on social media after economic incentives were announced to attract Rivian Automotive to the former Mitsubishi auto manufacturing plant. The Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, the Town of Normal, and Mayor Chris Koos helped lead the effort to pass an incentive package which includes property tax abatements from area taxing bodies.
"Some of the messages I was getting was 'the town's in bad shape, it's only going to get worse, and don't you dare do anything to fix it,'" said Koos. "I'm not sure where that mindset comes from but it's certainly not the community I want to live in and a lot of people I know don't want to live in that environment."
Koos said during Sound Ideas that some of the negativity and suspicion of elected officials may be an outgrowth of the divisive 2016 election. He said gridlock in Congress and at the state level is frustrating to many people. But he says, at the municipal level, the motivation is not driven by ideology.
"What happens at a municipal level in the United States, which is where most of the work gets done, people are pretty altruistic about what they're doing and how they do it," said Koos.
Riven has been in a self-described "stealth mode." Koos said that's worked against the company locally and he thinks they'd agree with that. Koos blamed one blog post for setting off most negative comments or skepticism. He said the company has been fully vetted. He expect Rivian Automotive to be more forthcoming after the first of the year.
"Some of the things I've found out about some of the leadership in that company is pretty amazing," said Koos. "The experience, and the knowledge, and the talent they've assembled for that, once people start to find out who these people are, I think it's going to change their minds."
Koos said another criticism he heard is that 'big car companies are trying to do what Rivian is doing, so why even try?' Koos called those kinds of comments "anti-entrepreneurial."
Rivian's CEO R.J. Scaringe told Sound Ideas he envisions an electric drive vehicle, sold under today's traditional ownership model. However, in the not so distant future, Rivian would produce self-driving, cars which would be shared.
Koos said if Rivian never produces one car, the company will have invested millions of dollars into the former Mitsubishi factory, a facility that could then be put back on the market for someone else to consider.