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Local

Rochelle not ready to dim the spotlight yet

Japanese delegation visits as city gets back to work after Toyota-Mazda letdown

Japanese Consul General Naoki Ito, left, and Mark Peterson, CEO of Intersect Illinois, board a helicopter for an aerial tour of Rochelle on Friday. A Japanese delegation was in town to scout economic development opportunities in the Hub City.
Japanese Consul General Naoki Ito, left, and Mark Peterson, CEO of Intersect Illinois, board a helicopter for an aerial tour of Rochelle on Friday. A Japanese delegation was in town to scout economic development opportunities in the Hub City.

ROCHELLE – Rochelle Economic Development Director Jason Anderson’s recent trip to Japan as part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s trade mission already is paying dividends.

A Japanese delegation led by Consul General Naoki Ito and Ralph Inforzato, director of Japan’s External Trade Organization, took a tour of the Hub City on Friday that included an aerial view of its economic assets. Also making the trip was Mark Peterson, CEO of Intersect Illinois, the state’s nonprofit economic development organization set up by Rauner.

When Anderson was on the governor’s trade mission in September, he had invited Ito and Inforzato to visit Rochelle. Ito has been a member of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1984, and Inforzato represents a global business network that has offices in 60 cities worldwide.

The tour began with a helicopter ride, and the group visited Silgan Container, a metal food packaging company; MightyVine, a hydroponic greenhouse; and the Rochelle Business and Technology Park.

The Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corp. hosted a business roundtable luncheon that drew 30 regional business leaders to trade ideas for building a stronger business relationship between Northern Illinois and Japan.

The tour group was impressed by what the city has to offer Japanese companies.

“Rochelle has all of the infrastructure businesses need,” Ito said in a news release. “We believe there are many Japanese companies who would benefit from what Rochelle has to offer.”

Another member of the delegation also was upbeat about the possibility of bringing more Japanese industry to the region.

“It is obvious the city of Rochelle has passionate leaders who understand economic development,” Inforzato said. “We see many opportunities to partner with Rochelle in bringing new businesses here.”

The city is shaking off disappointment after learning Oct. 18 that it was out of the running for the highly coveted Toyota-Mazda plant the companies plan to build in the U.S. The $1.6 billion plant is expected to create an estimated 4,000 jobs.

The news has been mitigated by the attention Rochelle received during the site-selection process. It has also created a sense of urgency to take advantage of the spotlight while it’s brightest.

“We can’t waste time feeling sorry for ourselves,” Anderson 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.”

Peterson lauded Rochelle for its rail and highway access, utility infrastructure, available workforce and a “business-friendly approach.”

The Toyota-Mazda developments have also been disappointing for Lee County – most of the land on the 1,000-acre site near the intersection of Interstates 39 and 88 falls within its borders.

A site announcement for the plant, which will make electric vehicles, is expected in the next couple of months. Bloomberg has reported that the companies are looking for an incentive package of at least $1 billion for the plant. It is expected to be operational in 2021.

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