SPRINGFIELD — Another Illinois-Iowa border war may be brewing over tax subsidies for a proposed large-scale fertilizer plant.
A year after an Egyptian-owned construction conglomerate pitted the two states against each other in search of the best tax breaks for a $1.4 billion fertilizer production facility, a second company is now trolling for similar sweeteners.
Officials tied to a group called Project Cronus were in the Illinois Statehouse on Thursday telling members of a House committee they will create more than 2,000 construction jobs if they can get tax breaks for a $1.2 billion fertilizer production facility to be built near Tuscola.
Once built, they said the project will employ about 150 full-time workers and, potentially, another 90 maintenance and transportation jobs.
“It would be a big, big deal,” said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
Iowa economic development officials won’t divulge whether they are involved in negotiations with the company, which, according to documents circulating in the Illinois Capitol, is eyeing an Iowa location in Mitchell County on the state’s border with Minnesota.
“We don’t comment on projects that we are or are not negotiating,” said Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “I really wouldn’t be in a position to talk about any details.”
Messages left with Mitchell County economic development officials in Osage were not immediately returned Thursday.
Iowa state Rep. Roger Thomas, D-Elkader, who sits on the state’s Economic Development Board, said he wasn’t aware of any recent proposal involving a new fertilizer plant. Neither had Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, who chairs the House Economic Growth Committee.
The search for a package of tax subsidies comes as controversy continues to hound Iowa officials over last year’s competition with Illinois to land an agricultural fertilizer facility.
Democrats say Republican Gov. Terry Branstad was “suckered” into promising $100 million in state tax credits, on top of county tax breaks, for a facility to be built in Lee County by Cairo-based Orascom.
The governor last week defended the project, saying it would reap economic development returns for decades.
The game plan for Project Cronus appears to be very similar to the one used by Orascom, which had said it was looking at a location near Peoria before deciding on the site in southeastern Iowa.
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According to information provided by Tuscola economic development officials, the potential site in Illinois for Project Cronus would be adjacent to an existing chemical manufacturing complex and natural gas pipeline near Tuscola in Douglas County.
“The project represents an effort to develop a grass roots, world scale, granular urea plant in the United States grain belt,” notes a project overview provided by Tuscola Economic Development Inc.
A spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said the Chicago Democrat has spoken with company officials.
And, a package of tax-related legislation is being sponsored by the Illinois General Assembly by state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign.
The company also has contacted officials at the Champaign-Urbana sewer district about using effluent from its wastewater treatment facility for production purposes.
Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District said he is hopeful Illinois will win the sweepstakes.
“We are optimistic. It looks like Illinois has a good chance at this,” Manner said Thursday.
Brian Moody, Tuscola economic development director, said the project has been in the works for at least a year.
He said landing the company would help Illinois erase the loss of Orascom to Iowa last year.
“This is kind of our second chance at that,” Moody said. “We feel we have some definite site advantages.”
Thomas said the publicity over the Orascom deal would likely have little bearing on future developments.
“For them it’s all about location, location, location,” he said. “And money. What’s the best location so you can capitalize on the investment.”