Quinn hopes to work with Caterpillar

Steve Tarter

Gov. Pat Quinn hopes to work on concerns that Caterpillar Inc. raised Tuesday when the company announced that the next plant it plans to build in North America won’t be in Illinois.

Caterpillar’s site selection team nixed several proposals made by different groups across the state in an email Tuesday, indicating that “previously documented concerns about the business climate and overall fiscal health of the state of Illinois” were factors in the decision. Caterpillar stated its search now focused on proximity to the company’s Building Construction Products division in Cary, N.C.

Responding to Caterpillar’s concerns about the state, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor would tackle both major Medicaid and pension reforms, two of the state’s biggest fiscal issues, in his budget address on Feb. 22.

“We know we can’t change the state business climate overnight, but we’re ready for the next employer that comes to town. In the future, we’ll be ready for Caterpillar,” said Peoria County Board Chairman Tom O’Neill, crediting Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis for helping gain support of area mayors for a regional proposal to bring the plant to central Illinois.

Caterpillar had encouraged proposals in a nationwide search for a new factory site to build small track-type tractors and mini hydraulic excavators. The new plant will employ 1,400 people.

“I was disappointed but not surprised,” O’Neill said.

“I got a call from Caterpillar Tuesday afternoon explaining that (CEO) Doug Oberhelman wanted to let us know in advance because of all the work put in by our group that Caterpillar wasn’t going to locate anywhere in Illinois.

“I knew up front that Doug was looking for more from the state of Illinois in the way of business incentives.”

Dave Chapman, president of Local 974 of the United Auto Workers, who also was part of the Peoria County team, said the group “put its best foot forward and looks for the effort to help us in the future.” The UAW represents Caterpillar’s hourly workers.

State Rep. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said efforts to expand manufacturing in the area will continue. “We know we’ve got work to do at the state level. (Caterpillar’s) comments will be taken to heart.”

Galesburg also had sought to draw a Caterpillar plant to Knox County, even running a full page ad in the Feb. 5 Journal Star that invited Caterpillar to the city.

While expressing disappointment, Galesburg Mayor Sal Garza said competition for the project was intense.

“We knew going in that this was a long shot, but we were willing to make the effort to develop a working relationship with Caterpillar.

In the end, there were variables beyond our control at play. Cat’s decision, in part, was based on their desire to locate the plant close to its division headquarters in North Carolina,” he said.

Garza said Caterpillar officials told him the city should be proud of its efforts.

“We were acutely aware of the (state’s economic) problems from the private sector, but we attempted to put initiatives in place to compensate. From the conversation we had with Caterpillar (Tuesday), we were able to take away that Galesburg and west central Illinois could be in consideration for future opportunities,” he said.

Lori Curtis Luther, Peoria County administrator, also was optimistic.

“We’re well poised for future projects. We’re very proud that Peoria County took the lead in putting the proposal together,” she said.

“Any growth for Caterpillar is good for Peoria County. Of course, we’d like to see every plant built here, but we support them and value their partnership.”