Don't count Rockford out. That's the word Thursday night from the head of Rockford's leading economic development agency.
The story broke earlier in the day that Rochelle and DeKalb are in the running for a major auto plant project.
The proposal could mean thousands of jobs for the town that wins the bid. Late Thursday night, we heard from Nathan Bryant, the President and CEO of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council. He said Rockford is in the running. too.
Bryant said he spoke directly with the site selector representing the project. He said the proposal is still in the works.
In fact, Bryant said Rockford has a 1,000 acre site that would be perfect for the rail infrastructure needed for the auto plant, and Rockford's workforce is second to none.
"Workforce development and the ability to supply labor is the biggest solution we can possibly have on these deals and Rockford fits that criteria better than any other candidate within 50 miles of here," said Bryant.
We asked Bryant if he could tell us the site location, but said he couldn't because the proposal is in still in the works.
Bryant said Rockford will compete against Rochelle and DeKalb for this deal and collaboration could happen if and when one of the three sites are picked, but that's a big if considering 10 other states are also in the running.
Jason Anderson is the Economic Development Director for the City of Rochelle. He says a 1,000 acre spot in the city is ready to go for major development.
"Rochelle is ready for whatever wants to come to Rochelle," says Anderson.
Anderson says three unnamed companies are interested in developing the site. It's believed one of those developments could be a major Mazda Toyota manufacturing plant.
"We're workforce ready, we're rail ready, we're road ready, we're utility ready, That makes us the most ideal location for Toyota."
Anderson says its location near I-39 and I-88 also makes it perfect for the plant. He estimates upwards of $50 million have been spent to prepare this site over the last 15 years.
"We've spent all that money on infrastructure on the promise that something like this would come to this area," says Anderson. "And now we're ready to handle it."
"When you see what this manufacturer is looking for it's a large piece of land, it's access to rail infrastructure it's the ability to move the product their manufacturing around the world," says State Representative Tom Demmer. "And more importantly a highly qualified workforce. That's something Rochelle and northern Illinois brings to the table in a very strong way."
While area leaders say Rochelle is the obvious choice for a number of reasons, a few issues could hold it back.
"If it doesn't happen it may be one of two reasons," says Ogle County Chairman Kim Gouker. One, the state of Illinois couldn't come up with incentives to match other states, partially because of economic problems and the budget. Second one would be our dysfunction and our high regulation and taxation."
Anderson says the next step in these unnamed projects is to have a site selector from these companies come out to inspect the area in person.