Quinn upbeat at Champaign event

It's not every day that the Democratic governor of Illinois wins praise from the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association for passing a workers' compensation reform bill.

It's about as often as that same governor gets a free sample of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with his photograph on the box.

So Tuesday was a good day for Gov. Pat Quinn.

"I think it's important that we acknowledge that our state is moving forward. We're not running in place. We're not stuck in the mud," Quinn said during an upbeat news conference at the Champaign Kraft plant. "We're at a great company here, Kraft, which has been a great, great corporate citizen in Illinois for many, many years."

Moments later, John Schmidt, manufacturing manager at the 1,350-employee Champaign plant, offered what he called "a very special, one of a kind box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese just for the governor."

"My kids will be very happy to see this," Quinn joked. "They grew up on a diet of macaroni and cheese. I was an excellent cook."

Schmidt, who has headed the Champaign operation for four years, noted the plant will mark its 50th year in 2013.

In addition to Kraft Dinners, he said the plant manufactures Miracle Whip, mayonnaise and salad dressings, plus Kraft Singles and Velveeta. Its annual economic impact amounts to $66 million in salary and benefits.

The 1.5 million-square-foot Champaign operation continues to grow, he said, with the addition of a macaroni press and dryer now under construction on the Bradley Avenue side of the plant. Kraft spokeswoman Joyce Hodel said the expansion is worth into the millions of dollars.

Quinn wasn't the only official at Tuesday's press conference to acknowledge a connection to the local plant.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who sponsored the workers' comp legislation in the Senate, said that 14 years ago his wife was hired by Kraft as a chemical engineer "on the Velveeta team" and had to make frequent trips to Champaign. "It's good to know that her reports on where she was coming were legitimate," he quipped.

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