NORMAL, Ill. (WLS) -- The cars of the future are being built right here, right now in Illinois.
Rivian, an up and coming electric vehicle company, already has more than 5,000 people working in their 3 million square foot factory in Normal, Ill., about two hours south of Chicago.
"For Rivian as a company, being here in central Illinois, we feel really lucky to have this sense of community around the plant," said RJ Scaringe, founder and CEO.
Among their vehicles is the Rivian R1T, one of the only electric pickup trucks on the planet.
WATCH | Full interview with Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe
Scaringe created Rivian. He's not yet 40, but years ago the MIT PhD, who Jeff Bezos called one of the greatest entrepreneurs he's ever met, realized electric vehicles are critical to a more sustainable future.
"It's not just Rivian, it's what needs to happen across the whole space," he said. "Today there's well over a billion vehicles on the planet. The vast majority of those are combustion fueled. And in our lifetime all of those need to be replaced with electric vehicles."
In the United States, less than 1% of the 250 million cars on the road are electric, and EVs remain very expensive. The R1T quad motor is more than $85,000.
Federal and state officials are trying to accelerate the change. Last February, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Governor JB Pritzker and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to visit Bloomington-Normal, including a stop at Heartland Community College. The school received more than $7 million in government assistance to offer associate's degrees, teaching students about electric vehicles.
"We've got a great partnership," said Mike Deavers, EV instructor at Heartland Community College. "As you look around the lab, you can see a ton of Rivians and Rivian components. And it's really neat to have that cutting edge technology in our lab."
It's not just Rivian. Deavers said his students are learning about other EVs, and gaining valuable hands-on experience.
"I love cars and I used to work on my car sometimes myself to fix the brakes," said David Mafuta, student. "When this program came to be I thought that would be cool. To have not just the regular car but on top of that the electrical vehicle to know how the electric vehicle works."
"Really enjoy it. I actually like seeing the shop around here build and keep adding cars," said Hayden Sheehan, student. "A couple weeks ago we didn't have all these Rivians in here but now we're getting to the point where we're getting a lot more cars in here and more things to do."
For Rivian, the path to success is a winding one. The company expects to make just 25,000 electric vehicles this year. Like all automakers, production is slowed by global supply chain issues and semiconductor shortages.
"You can't build a car with 99.9% of the parts. You need 100% of the parts," said Scaringe.
The company already has plans to expand its footprint in Illinois, where Scaringe has invested billions and plans to stay and raise his family.
"What the Bloomington-Normal communities have done for us in terms of enthusiasm and excitement - and of course supplying an incredibly talented workforce - has just been awesome," he said. "So we're happy to be here and I'm happy to be living here."