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Big in 2021: American jobs created by EV companies

It turns out that the flurry of activity related to SPACs could help create thousands, if not tens of thousands, American EV industry jobs.

Lion Electric electric school buses

One of the big things I'm thinking about to kick off 2021 is how electric vehicles will be entwined with a U.S. recovery. Even before Joe Biden has formalized any green stimulus plans, the EV industry in the U.S. is showing important indicators that it will see solid growth this year — and that means jobs. New industry jobs. Electric jobs. Climate jobs. 

Recently I chatted with the CEO and founder of Lion Electric, an electric bus and truck maker based in Saint-Jerome, Quebec. Marc Bedard founded the company 12 years ago — after working at a diesel school bus company in the 1990's — with the goals of eliminating diesel engines for school buses and diesel fumes from the air that school kids breathe. 

Lion got its start making electric school buses and has delivered major orders to the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, California, and White Plains School District in White Plains, New York. More recently it unveiled an electric delivery truck and scored orders with Amazon and Canadian logistics provider CN. 

While Lion Electric already has a factory in Montreal that can make 2,500 e-buses and trucks a year, the company tells GreenBiz it plans to expand into the U.S. by buying and converting an American factory that could be large enough to make 20,000 vehicles a year. Lion will unveil more details about where exactly that factory could be in the coming weeks, although vehicle production there probably won't start for a couple of years.

The expected rise of EV jobs across new and established automakers offers a spark of good news amidst expected anemic job growth for the first half of the year.

Lion isn't the only EV truck maker eying expansion into the U.S. market. Arrival — a London-based EV truck maker with a 10,000-EV deal with UPS — plans to invest $43 million into its first U.S. factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The factory is expected to produce 240 jobs, with operations to start in the second quarter of 2021. The company's U.S. headquarters will be in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina.

In addition to Arrival and Lion, a handful of other independent U.S. EV makers have emerged in recent years to tap into the growing American electric truck market, including Lordstown Motors, Hyliion, XL Fleet, Rivian, Nikola and Lightning eMotors. All of these companies recently have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and gone public by merging with "blank check" companies, or Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (also called SPACs). 

Although the financial tool is a bit speculative in nature — the SPAC process is far quicker and less rigorous than going public via a traditional initial public offering — it turns out that SPACs, strangely enough, could help create thousands, if not tens of thousands, American EV industry jobs. Hopefully, most of those will end up being long-term, stable jobs. 

And those are just the latest jobs from the newest players.

Ford is developing an all-electric cargo van at a Kansas City plant that will create 150 jobs this year. That's on top of the hundreds of other new EV jobs created by Ford's new electric vehicle lines, the electric F-150 and the Mustang Mach-E. Likewise, Daimler Trucks North America has been converting and expanding its factory to make electric trucks at its Swan Island headquarters in North Portland, Oregon.

The new EV jobs couldn't come at a better time. Thanks to the pandemic, 2020 saw historic American unemployment rates peaking in April and recovering to just 6.7 percent unemployment as of November. But with a slow vaccine rollout and surging infection rates, prolonged long-term high unemployment rates are expected. Clean energy jobs have been equally hit hard, with about a half-million clean energy workers left unemployed by the pandemic this year. 

Despite not knowing what Biden's green stimulus will look like, the administration already has signaled that the automakers could be a big part of a recovery. Biden selected former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as his energy department secretary. Granholm worked closely with the Obama administration and the auto industry throughout the green stimulus program following the 2008 financial crisis. 

The expected rise of EV jobs across new and established automakers offers a spark of good news amidst expected anemic job growth for the first half of the year. And these are just jobs from the vehicle manufacturers. 

Equally strong job growth is expected for EV infrastructure providers riding the same electric wave and could get even more of a boost from a green infrastructure stimulus. A federal government stimulus also could inject funding and jobs into a growing domestic EV battery production sector. 

In what is expected to be another dark couple of quarters for employment in 2021, look to EV jobs to offer a bright spot. 

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