RANTOUL – Champaign County offered one site for consideration when Honda was deciding where to put its new automotive plant, economic development officials said.
The 1,400-acre site was near Rantoul's industrial park, and Honda didn't seem to pursue much follow-up information about it, according to Reed Berger, Rantoul's economic development director.
On June 28, Honda announced it had chosen a site near Greensburg, Ind., for the $550 million manufacturing plant and its 2,000 associated jobs. A site near Fithian was among four finalists for the plant – and the only finalist from Illinois.
Berger said a consultant contacted him April 20 requesting information about sites suitable for an undisclosed manufacturer. Berger, who was driving back from a logistics conference in Rochelle at the time, submitted the site information digitally that evening.
"I didn't know it was Honda," he said.
"I guessed it was something fairly big, given the size of the parcel, the estimate of the number of jobs and the size of investment.
"It never got beyond the initial stage," he said. "Our job was to provide map data and site data and provide it to people who could ... decide whether to engage us for further information.
"There wasn't much asked for in the initial request," he added.
"Quite frankly, it was not a lot of work. It took some intensive work for a day, and we made some secondary submittals – information to clarify. But there wasn't a second phase where we were asked to deliver documentation that we had optioned the site."
Berger said he knew the project involved a manufacturer, but didn't know it was an automotive company.
"We didn't know what it might be," he said.
Berger said the undisclosed site would have provided good rail and highway access and would have involved about three property owners.
He said numerous economic development directors around the state were contacted directly by the consultant about the same time.
Berger said the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity contacted the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. the next day, and that organization threw its support behind the Rantoul site.
Putting together information for the consultant was a good exercise, Berger said, but it reminded him how much needs to be done to be ready for potential clients.
"It was a good opportunity to quickly look and see what we had at that scope and size. It really tests whether we're prepared or not. We continue to find out how unprepared we are for something of that size and nature," he said.
Berger said his concerns mainly relate to infrastructure and available sites.
"We don't have 'shovel-ready' availability when it comes to much more sizable sites," he said.
Jeanne Gustafson, chief executive officer of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., said it's not always practical to have shovel-ready availability.
"When you're talking about a site of that magnitude, you have to either own it or option it, and it can be cumbersome maintaining options," she said.