RANTOUL — Even though it seemed a mere formality after Tuesday night's special Rantoul Village Board study session, Lewis Hornsby still felt a tinge of uncertainty.
Just before the village board voted on plans to proceed with Easton-Bell Sports constructing a new facility west of Interstate 57 in Rantoul at a special board meeting Thursday night, Hornsby, the vice president of global logistics and fulfillment for the manufacturer, leaned forward in his auditorium-style seat at the Rantoul Municipal Building.
He exhaled, smiled and stood to applaud — along with the rest of the near-capacity crowd in the Louis B. Schelling Memorial Board Room — a few moments after the village board approved, 6-0, giving Easton-Bell Sports a chance to build a new facility in the village.
"This has been my part-time job working on this (project) for a couple years, and thank goodness my day job was very busy today" with conference calls, Hornsby said with a laugh. "I've done this enough for a few different companies that it's never a sure thing. There can always be something that surprises you at the end."
The decision to erect the facility, which would sit off Evans Road along U.S. 136 and next to the Jeld-Wen plant in what is now a farm field, is still contingent upon business incentives approved at the state level, Rantoul Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl said.
Laura Moore, the senior vice president of corporate communications for Easton-Bell Sports, said she anticipates those measures will be passed "within a matter of weeks."
John Dimit, the president and CEO of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., said those state incentives are "very critical to the project."
"Continued work needs to be made to make sure those come through," he said. "This was the local approval tonight, but we've still got the state approval to do, and both of those are absolutely necessary for the project to proceed."
Hornsby said the company still has plans for an August groundbreaking if the state approves the project. The anticipated opening for the new facility is in late 2013.
Easton-Bell Sports currently has two facilities in Rantoul, one along U.S. 136 east of Rantoul, and another in a hangar at the former Chanute Air Force Base.
Hornsby said he did not have a final cost estimate on what it would take to build the proposed facility.
"We're still arm-wrestling on what I get to put on the inside," Hornsby said with a laugh, "so it's still to be determined."
Hornsby also said he wasn't sure what would happen to the two buildings the company currently uses if the facility is built.
Easton-Bell Sports employs 300 people in Rantoul, and Hornsby indicated at Tuesday night's study session that the new facility would be built with room to expand the company's workforce.
Dimit said if the facility is built, the project would have an estimated $61 million effect on the local economy.
"This is a major project that affects the entire region, not just southern Ford County and northern Champaign County," Dimit said. "This is a major deal. This is going to be one of the classiest industrial buildings in the county. That's going to make quite a statement. I'm really pleased that Easton-Bell has chosen to do this. I think it lets people know that Rantoul is a good place to live."
Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams said having the new facility along I-57, where thousands of motorists would pass it daily, bodes well for the village.
"When you speak in terms of economic development and economic growth, there's several phases," he said. "It's not just bringing in new companies. It's retaining the ones that you have and allowing them to grow. This is a perfect example of that. I don't think words can express our appreciation to Easton-Bell for choosing Rantoul, and the commitment that they've made to this community, not just with this project, but for years and years to come."
Before the vote, three employees of Easton-Bell Sports spoke to the board about the proposed project, including lifelong Rantoul resident Tim Mayer, who has worked for the company for 39 years.
"In 39 years, this is the most exciting thing to happen, by far," Mayer said. "I think if we can get this project done, it will be something we can all be proud of."
Helen Rodgers has worked at Easton-Bell Sports for 35 years and echoed Mayer's comments.
"As other companies are going elsewhere, Easton-Bell Sports, by building in Rantoul, is committing to staying and keeping the jobs in this community," she said. "This is an investment in (Rantoul's) residents."
Rantoul resident Frank Ball was appreciative Easton-Bell would keep jobs in the area with the proposed facility.
"I want to thank Easton-Bell Sports for not taking this to Mexico or Texas or sending it to China," he said. "They're still giving American people the opportunity to work in this area."