Lawmakers hope incentives will lure fertilizer plant
TUSCOLA — Local legislators say they're optimistic that Illinois' package of incentives will help attract a $1.1 billion urea fertilizer plant to the west side of Tuscola.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday signed SB 20 which has a number of economic development projects, including a third Chicago area airport at Peotone, construction of an arena for DePaul University near McCormick Place in Chicago and help for the development of a port of East St. Louis on the Mississippi River.
The fertilizer plant, proposed by Chicago-based Cronus Chemical LLC, is the plum for East Central Illinois, say state lawmakers. Illinois and Iowa are vying for the plant.
State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, said the incentives offered by local and state governments, if fully used, are worth "roughly $30 million." They include roadway improvements to U.S. 36 and U.S. 45, plus sales tax and utility tax abatements and up to $12 million in local property tax abatements.
"It would be such a great shot in the arm for us," said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "The construction costs alone more than pays off the incentives. It's off the charts."
Cronus spokesman Dave Lundy said a decision is "extremely likely" by the end of September.
"Getting the governor to sign that bill and getting the incentives passed was critical to putting Illinois onto the same footing as Iowa, in terms of how the incentives are shaping up," Lundy said. "At this point Cronus is working to finalize all the cost estimates at each of the respective sites. That's a process that should take 30 to 60 days. Once they have a strong understanding of what that looks like, and that includes working with contractors and working through various cost expenses, they'll be making a decision, and we'll be making an announcement on our site selection."
Brown said he's optimistic Tuscola will be successful.
"It's looking really good. I can't say 100 percent for sure, but I'm pretty positive we've built a framework here that makes it almost irresistible for the company," he said. "When they see the infrastructure there as well as the incentive package that we crafted on their behalf, they pretty much outlined exactly what they would need from us and eventually we met those goals.
"I think within the next 30 days they'll make a decision and I personally think they'll choose Tuscola."
Illinois' package of incentives is worth less than the $35 million offered by Iowa, Brown noted, "but when they look at our site, they see the natural gas pipeline is already there, and there are roadways and railroads ready for them."
The Tuscola site includes convenient access to U.S. 45, Interstate 57 and the CSX, Union Pacific and Canadian National railroads, plus gas pipelines west of the city.
"Natural gas is the feedstock. In order to produce urea, you need some feedstock," Lundy said. "It's oftentimes coal, but in this case we're using natural gas, which is much cleaner. You need a very large quantity of natural gas. It's a noncombustible type of ammonia that they convert it to and then that's converted into urea, which is the fertilizer."
Cronus Chemical is a recently formed corporation backed by Swiss and Turkish investors, Lundy said. Its CEO is Erzin Atac, the former president of Transammonia Fertilizer, who has 30 years in the fertilizer industry.
The proposed plant, which would take 30 months to build and employ 1,000 during construction and 225 permanently, would be located just west of the Cargill grain elevator in Tuscola.
It would manufacture up to 1.4 million tons a year of granulated urea fertilizer, which is safer than the ammonia nitrate fertilizer made at the plant in West, Texas, that blew up in April, according to Rose.