CHAMPAIGN – Two area companies and several local school districts and cities will share in nearly $6 million in energy grants to East Central Illinois, courtesy of federal stimulus money.
The biggest winner: EpiWorks in Champaign, which received about $2.5 million to expand its photovoltaic wafer production capacity.
The company, which employs about 40, makes specially treated wafers that customers use to make chips for cell phones and medical and industrial lasers. Now it's gearing up to supply wafers to the solar industry as well.
EpiWorks is on target for hiring 10 people this year, company President Quesnell Hartmann said Tuesday. The grant is being used to buy equipment and modify it, with the hope of photovoltaic wafer production going full-tilt in the latter half of 2011.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development also announced a nearly $1.5 million grant to Viscofan USA to help the Danville plant reduce its natural gas needs by 17 percent.
That project is expected to create 45 jobs, according to the department's director, Warren Ribley.
Dan Shenck, manager of the Danville plant, said the cooperative project "benefits the environment, our community and helps provide our company with the ability to remain competitive in our worldwide market."
Separately Tuesday, the state announced a $767,000 business investment package for Trim-Rite Food Corp., which has agreed to lease the former Meadowbrook Farms pork processing plant in Rantoul.
Ribley said the move would create 100 jobs there initially. Trim-Rite already employs 220 at its headquarters in Carpentersville.
In a news release, Trim-Rite President James Jendruczek said, "It is our goal, with the addition of new equipment from Europe, to make this plant the finest and most modern hog-processing facility in the United States."
The state's business investment package consists of corporate income tax credits, based on job creation and job training funds.
In addition to grants made to companies, the state also made several energy-related grants to area school districts and cities, including:
– $481,000 to the Champaign school district for geothermal energy projects at Bottenfield, Westview and Robeson schools that enable air-conditioning while providing energy savings.
– $480,000 to the Rantoul city schools that helped pay for geothermal wells and replacement of windows at five schools.
– $408,000 to the city of Tuscola for a 100-kilowatt wind turbine for its wastewater treatment facility.
– $405,000 to the Prairieview-Ogden school district for a geothermal system and a wind turbine at an elementary school.
– $62,265 to the city of Arcola for a 40-kilowatt wind turbine at its wastewater treatment facility.