Lion Electric gives a new twist to Joliet industrial growth

Electric bus and truck manufacturer puts the local logistics boom in a new perspective

The pending arrival of The Lion Electric Company puts a new perspective on the industrial development that has proliferated in Joliet and surrounding towns.

Industrial has translated to warehouses and distribution centers for years with many people complaining that logistics is not their idea of industry.

Manufacturing is what many want to see, but manufacturing as new industry seemed to all have disappeared until the Lion Electric announcement a week ago.

Now, not only is Joliet poised to get a new manufacturing plant in late 2022 but one on the cutting edge of future technology – a maker of electric buses and trucks.

All of a sudden, there seems to be a method to the madness – to the extent that many consider the continuous addition of warehouses and the semitrailers that come with them to be madness – if our area’s proven readiness to accommodate logistics leads to a new wave of manufacturing.

Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk

“Some of the previous projects have been controversial,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said as he stood on the site of the future Lion Electric plant a week ago. “I don’t think this will be one of them.”

He’s likely right about that.

O’Dekirk had joined Gov. JB Pritzker and a large number of local elected officials and legislators to welcome Lion Electric outside the 906,517-square-foot building under construction at 3835 Youngs Road in Clarius Park.

No one mentioned NorthPoint during the many public remarks made at the event.

But I wondered how much Lion Electric may influence the governor’s thinking about the bridge NorthPoint Development wants to build for its future Compass Global Logistics Hub. NorthPoint advocates urge Pritzker to order a state takeover of an Elwood road to make the preferred bridge route possible, while NorthPoint opponents applaud him for leaving the issue for local authorities to sort out.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think about how convenient it could be for manufacturers and suppliers in the electric vehicle business and other industries to be in the NorthPoint development, where they would have direct access to the Joliet and Elwood intermodals without going onto local roads, or in the existing CenterPoint Intermodal Center where they have that access already.

Gov. Pritzker wants to attract new manufacturing to Illinois, especially in the area of so-called clean industries like electric vehicles.

If there really is a manufacturing renaissance on the horizon for Illinois, it would be good to see Joliet and Will County become more of a maker again after having already established itself as a mover.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News