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Gov. Quinn helps open Rochelle rail car plant

ROCHELLE – The local economy received a boost Thursday with the grand opening of global rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyo’s $35 million plant in Rochelle.

More than 500 people including Gov. Pat Quinn, the ambassador of Japan to the U.S. and federal officials attended an opening ceremony of a plant that is expected to create 300 jobs in the area and produce state-of-the-art passenger cars for Metra.

The Japan-based company’s newest plant is the culmination of aggressive courting from state officials who offered millions of dollars in incentives to secure the plant. In 2010, the state offered more than $5 million in grants, training funds and other incentives as well as millions of dollars in tax breaks.

Rochelle also received $1.8 million to provide infrastructure needs and the Illinois Department of Transportation is investing $5.5 million to build a rail spur from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line to the new factory.

Quinn said the investment was well worth the price as the state looks to build high-speed rails to St. Louis and Detroit and upgrade its existing passenger cars on state and city railroads.

“We certainly understand the importance of passenger rail,” Quinn said. “We need 21st century rail cars.”

State Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Shabbona, also was excited about the plant, saying the 300 jobs would employ people from all over the area including DeKalb, Rockford and other cities, while also attracting more suppliers to the area. Karen Hedlund, deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, said Nippon Sharyo has identified 200 suppliers in the Midwest.

Johnson said there could be as many as 25 subsidiary facilities that come to the region and add jobs because of Nippon Sharyo.

“It’s going to be a wonderful addition to the regional economy,” Johnson said. “We’re very pleased with Nippon Sharyo.”

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said the new plant is a great example of the role government should play in the private sector. Instead of burdensome regulations, he said the state should continue to focus on ways to facilitate business ventures that bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the economy.

“Rochelle continues to provide a model for us that shows us how to create jobs and stimulate the economy,” Pritchard said. “Private investment is the driver here. Government can facilitate, but it’s about people willing to invest and take risks.”

The 465,000-square-foot facility can produce 120 passenger cars every year. Metra is expected to purchase 160 new rail cars in the next five years worth $585 million, which is provided by the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program.

The company also is contracted to produce two cars for California’s Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, 18 cars for Metrolinx in Toronto and eight cars for the Virginia Railway Express in Alexandria, Va.

Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S., said when people in Japan think of Illinois, they will now think of the manufacturing plant.

“This will be the symbol of friendship between Japan and Illinois,” he said. “Illinois will be remembered in Japan as the state of Nippon Sharyo.”

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