DeKALB – Although it’s too early to say whether DeKalb will be a serious contender for a future Toyota-Mazda manufacturing plant promising up to 4,000 jobs, local officials agreed that the city has a competitive edge.
The companies recently announced plans for a $1.6 billion joint-venture plant in the U.S. with annual production capacity of about 300,000 vehicles and a goal to begin operations in 2021.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said DeKalb and Rochelle both have been working on unnamed projects thought to be the auto plant. The cities, about 20 miles apart via Interstate 88, also both have the land availability and infrastructure to make a good offer, he said.
“Groups in both communities satisfy the requirements to put an application forward,” Demmer said.
State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he still is learning details about the project, but he noted that DeKalb has “lots of positives” that would make it attractive for a large development such as an auto plant.
He said the community would need to fine-tune its pitch on things such as schools, parks, health care and overall quality of living that make DeKalb a place employers and workers want to stay in the long term.
Legislators will need to bring something to the table as well, such as job training and economic development incentives, to make Illinois a competitor with other states vying for such a project, Pritchard said.
Demmer said bringing the project to Illinois would require good communication and collaboration among state and local officials.
“[Illinois has] the infrastructure to connect us with the rest of country, a local workforce ready to take jobs,” he said. “There’s a lot of positive things.”
Demmer said an auto plant in either DeKalb or Rochelle would be a “shot in the arm” to the local economy that would benefit the entire region.
“With a national and global project, it’s a positive thing just to be in the running,” he said. “It shows what Rochelle and DeKalb have to offer, which could attract other opportunities in the future and create positive momentum.”
DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he will look into possible interest in DeKalb for the auto plant in the coming days, and he welcomes possibilities for any business, large or small, looking to grow in DeKalb.
“There’s so much going for us in DeKalb,” he said.
Paul Borek, director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., said he can’t comment on specifics of site selection projects. He did, however, say the DeKalb area has plenty of assets that would make a large-scale development feasible, including large, cost-effective sites and a sizable labor force drawing from surrounding counties.
“We have an abundant capability to develop and train professionals in our area,” Borek said, alluding to the proximity of Kishwaukee College and Northern Illinois University.
Borek said the region also has a significant transportation advantage with highway access points at Peace and North Annie Glidden roads, land parcels served by the Union Pacific Railroad, the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport and access to O’Hare International Airport.