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Investing in Illinois: TCCI and Richland Community College Pave the Way

May 17, 2023 in News

Read the published article by The Illinois Manufacturer

In recent years, there has been a global shift toward full electrification of the transportation industry due to rapidly rising carbon emissions. Because carbon emissions reached record highs in 2021, the need to transition has become exceedingly urgent, creating an increased demand for electric vehicles, and causing significant growth within the industry. As history has shown us, time and time again, American manufacturers are always prepared to adapt and innovate in whatever ways needed to uplift the American people and economy, most recently in the emergence from the coronavirus pandemic which helped recenter American manufacturing. The EV revolution is proliferating this recentering of American manufacturing where Illinois manufacturers are, once again, answering the call—this time with a collaborative approach. Investing in American manufacturing and widespread electrification will help alleviate supply chain issues, prevent reliance on foreign manufacturing, and strengthen our local, state, and national economy and community.

Through the strong advocacy of the IMA, Illinois has done just that. In 2021, the Illinois Legislature passed bipartisan legislation creating a new incentive package for auto manufacturers, battery manufacturers, and other companies in the auto supply chain that focus on electric vehicles, components, and supplies. Known as the Reimagining Electric Vehicles (REV) in Illinois Act, this law has helped position the State of Illinois to be more competitive as states across the country consider and offer incentives to companies in the growing electric vehicle, battery, and components market in an attempt to recruit companies to their respective states. With help from the REV in Illinois Act, CEJA (Climate & Equitable Jobs Act), and a $20 million investment of their own, TCCI has stepped up to answer the call to accelerate electrification by retooling their 1940s Decatur facility, transitioning from combustion to electric compressor manufacturing.

But TCCI is not the only one stepping up to answer the call—through Rebuild Illinois, the state has granted $15.3 million to Richland Community College, and $6 million to the City of Decatur who are working with TCCI to help build an EV Innovation Cluster in Central Illinois. The three are working side-by-side, and in collaboration with the Illinois Innovation Network to develop a new model for addressing the workforce shortage, expanding electrification in Illinois, and driving long-term economic growth through the creation of a first-of-its-kind facility that will house an EV Workforce Training Academy, a Climatic Center for Innovation and Research, and Electric Compressor Component Manufacturing all under one roof on TCCI’s Decatur campus. This collaborative electrification project will revolutionize both the future of manufacturing and electrification by creating a new model to solve and prevent the workforce shortage through developing workforce programs including credentials, certifications, STEM pathways and apprenticeship programs, in result, streamlining the talent pipeline.

Both public and private sectors recognize that building an infrastructure to prepare the workforce for the next generation of clean jobs will be crucial to the success of widespread electrification and requires a collaborative approach; hence, the EV Training Academy Workforce Development Partnership TCCI and Richland Community College have built. TCCI and Richland are working collaboratively with Illinois Public Higher Education Institutions to build a statewide-regional pathway program that will provide students with an immersive learning experience and ensure that graduates have the skills and knowledge to enter the workforce or continue their education through a clear and calculated pathway. “Together we are establishing a new model for Illinois that sets the stage for how education, research, and industry work together to cohesively advance us faster, invest in our people and grow our economy,” said Richland Community College President, Cris Valdez.

Richland Community College brings more than just their expertise. Richland supplies an essential component to solving the workforce shortage and accelerating electrification through their long-standing commitment to not only serving but creating a bridge for underserved, unemployed, and second chance workers through their EnRich program. This partnership will allow Richland to reach further and build on both their mission and exceptional reputation of guiding underserved individuals to opportunities to participate in high-wage, skilled work in their communities.

In collaboration with the Illinois Public Higher Education Institutions and the Illinois Innovation Network, the TCCI and Richland Community College partnership is developing a curriculum for a series of degree pathways from 2+2 to 3+1 in Advanced Manufacturing, Computer Science Engineering Software/Hardware Development, and CNC Machining. They are also establishing credentials, certifications, and apprenticeship programs as well. “We’ll have 3 classrooms here at TCCI that will also open up into one large auditorium. There will be shared space in our engineering tech center, and it will all overlook and have access to our electric compressor component manufacturing lines as well as our climatic center for research,” TCCI Vice President & Global Marketing Director, Kara Demirjian Huss. “So, the students will be immersed in the industry every step of the way.”

The Climatic Center for Innovation and Research (CCRI) will be a state-of-the-art R+D facility for conducting research that will advance both innovation and disruptive technologies. Designed to enhance high-profile research to advance crucial developments in charging, range, emissions, and data analyt- ics, it will be a world-class center for researchers around the globe. “With these advanced testing capabilities, we are able to facilitate faster-to-market technology development, enhanced safety, emissions control criteria development, and other benefits that will accelerate the shift to electrification,” said Demirjian Huss. “And this is not something that is just for TCCI which I think is really important. Yes, we’ll be doing testing for our own products, but the facility will be open to outside industry, outside researchers, and students to all participate and be a part of.”

The CCRI will offer partnership opportunities with researchers for climatic testing, key product simulations, performance testing and research, as well as system testing in the Climatic Chamber. It will also be available to rent for those with a need for its unique capabilities from manufacturers and startup companies to researchers and developers. “We have it mapped out, we have a really good strategy, we’ve got the universities working with us to build curriculum right now, and we hope to have a first-class in the training academy in fall of 2024,”said Demirjian Huss.

Through the leadership and collaborative approach of the TCCI and Richland Community College partnership and with the support of the state of Illinois and Illinois Public Higher Education Institutions, Illinois is set to continue to outpace the national growth projection in green energy. This partnership is pioneering our education-to-industry employment pipeline in Central Illinois and establishing a model for the rest of the state to use as a blueprint to build regional pathway programs of their own. The retooled electric compressor component manufacturing facility will be the first in the US and will be critical in achieving zero emissions for last-mile delivery, class 6 and 7 heavy-duty vehicles, which account for the majority of the transportation industry’s carbon emissions. TCCI’s transition to electric compressor manufacturing in the Decatur facility will meet REV requirements to generate more than 50 new jobs while retaining 103 positions of its current workforce. The demo is set to begin in May 2023 with aims of the facility being completed by quarter two or quarter three of the following year. TCCI and Richland Community College are displaying the importance of what a public-private partnership can do for not only the industry but for the community and have become pillars in both the manufacturing and education communities in Illinois and beyond.

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Our success is built on more than just our products and services; it's built on our culture.