RANTOUL — Public transportation between Rantoul and Champaign-Urbana could help boost economic development in Rantoul, community leaders told state Sen. Mike Frerichs.
Parkland College students, among others, could find more affordable housing in Rantoul if transportation to Champaign were available, Ian Wang of Amerinvest told the Champaign Democrat at an economic development roundtable hosted by the senator Monday.
Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl agreed that Rantoul needs "to do things to help us stay better connected with the assets that surround us," including the University of Illinois.
Sandahl noted that Rantoul is home to the Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory. Having transportation available for UI students would help not only that lab, but also research projects in energy and agriculture, he said.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and the Illinois Department of Transportation are doing a transportation study for Rantoul, Sandahl said. That study should be completed in about three months, he said.
Other issues spelled out by the 20 or so people attending the roundtable at the Rantoul Public Library included:
— Excess commercial buildings. Mike Daugherty of the Community Plus Federal Credit Union noted there are excess commercial, industrial and warehouse buildings on the market and wondered how they could be used.
"Buy Walmart buildings if they'll let you," quipped Betty Brennan, whose company, Taylor Studios, expanded into a former Walmart building 13 years ago. Her company, based in Rantoul, prepares exhibits for museums across the country.
— Retaining the Regional Office of Education. Dennis Long of Bank of Rantoul said the Rantoul-based Regional Office of Education has more than 50 "good jobs" associated with it, and it's important that the state not do away with those offices.
Frerichs said he will vote this fall to override Gov. Patrick Quinn's veto of a budget item to pay the salaries of regional superintendents. For now, regional superintendents aren't getting paid.
— "One size fits all" regulations. Janet Warner of United Fuel told Frerichs some regulations "don't fit all cases" and the state needs to realize "every situation is different."
Frerichs noted that United Fuel must follow the same environmental protection regulations as much larger companies, even though its fuel storage capacity might be only a fraction of theirs.
— Regulations that discourage businesses from expanding. Brennan said she wanted to put up a wall at Taylor Studios, but fire codes boosted the cost of the wall to $40,000 — an amount she deemed too expensive.
Similarly, Tom Finger of AT&T said his son wanted to erect a new facility for Triad Shredding. But because a state bridge and guard rail were on the land, the cost of putting in a driveway proved much higher than expected.
"These types of things discourage small businesses from expanding," Finger said.
Rantoul Township Supervisor Jim Rusk thanked Frerichs for his support of a bill allowing renewable energy districts in Illinois.
He said a bipartisan group in Champaign County is working to create such a district locally and will meet at 6 p.m. today at the Champaign Township offices, 3900 Kearns Drive, C.
Theoretically, the district could construct and operate a wind turbine to generate electricity, with revenues going to the county in hopes the county would drop its tax rates in return, Rusk said.