ROCHELLE – Illinois is out of the running for a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant that Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda plan to build in the United States.
More than a dozen states have been in hot pursuit of the plant that could bring up to 4,000 jobs. In Illinois, site selectors were looking at Rochelle and DeKalb. Rochelle had completed a request for additional information from the companies over the Labor Day weekend.
Rochelle received the news about noon Wednesday from Intersect Illinois, the nonprofit economic development corporation set up by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"I got a call from Mark Peterson, the president and CEO of Intersect Illinois, and he just said a story would be coming out soon in Crain's that says Illinois is out of the running," Rochelle Economic Development Director Jason Anderson said.
Intersect Illinois said no formal announcement had been made, but Peterson indicated the decision was based largely on site readiness shortcomings and the state's failure to institute a right-to-work law.
Toyota and Mazda are not commenting on the site selection process, including which states still are in the running.
Anderson said he was disappointed by the news, but not discouraged. Rochelle is working on two other significant manufacturing projects, and those companies still are requesting information.
"We got a phenomenal amount of media attention, and it shows we're ready for a project of this magnitude," Anderson said. "This put us on a national stage, and site selectors know we're here."
The decision also was disappointing for Lee County, where most of the proposed site is located. The Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corp. owns the 1,000 acres of farmland near the intersection of Interstates 39 and 88.
"It is disappointing, but the whole process made people recognize what we have to offer industry in Lee County," County Administrator Theresa Wittenauer said. "We were thrown into the national spotlight, and it becomes a huge positive for future opportunities."
Despite Intersect Illinois' reference to a lack of shovel-ready sites, it's not easy to find a 1,000-acre site with as much infrastructure in place as at that site: Four interstate access points, water, sewer and fiber-optic cable already are in place.
"We've taken a huge step forward with infrastructure, and hopefully, this will spur something else," Wittenauer said.
Illinois is surrounded by right-to-work states – Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky have enacted legislation that gives workers the right to opt out of union membership. There are 28 right-to-work states, and many Illinois business organizations, including its Chamber of Commerce, have called for the General Assembly to get something on the books.
The lack of right-to-work legislation might seem to put the state at a competitive disadvantage with some companies, but Rochelle's recent history tells a different story.
"Since I came here in 2005, Rochelle has brought in 15 industries, and not a single one of them has had a union workforce," Anderson said.
Anderson reiterated, however, that the region can't waste time feeling sorry for itself.
"We'll get together with Intersect Illinois and figure out what we can do better in the future," he said. "We were very fortunate to be a strong candidate for such a high-profile project, and that is something we need to build on."
Rochelle is being looked at as a potential site for a Japanese chemical company, a cold food storage business, and a dry products warehousing project.
The project: Toyota and Mazda announced plans in August to build an assembly plant in the U.S. The companies are collaborating on the development of electric vehicles and the new plant could produce up to 300,000 crossover SUVs for Mazda and Corolla sedans for Toyota.
Investment: $1.6 billion
Workforce: Up to 4,000
Timeline: Site selection in first quarter 2018; plant operational in 2021.