By Tim Mitchell, The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.
Crops are being planted for one last time on the 240 acres of rural Tuscola, Ill., farmland slated to be site of the new Cronus fertilizer plant.
Come spring 2016, all of that corn and soybeans will be replaced by a beehive of activity, with construction workers transforming the farmland into a $1.4 billion plant.
"We are absolutely excited about coming to Tuscola," Cronus spokesman Dave Lundy said. "We chose Douglas County because it is so well positioned for us. Our customers are there, our resources are there, and the area will provide us with a great workforce."
"This is going to be good for the whole area," said Tuscola Mayor Dan Kleiss. "We haven't seen a manufacturing facility like this since Cabot Corp. built its plant in the late 1950s. It will benefit the school district, the county and the township, and hopefully part of that workforce will be based here in Tuscola."
Kleiss said the arrival of Cronus ranks alongside the arrival of a water line from Champaign-Urbana, the construction of the Tanger Outlet Mall and the creation of the Iron Horse Golf Course.
Lundy expects about 2,000 people will be hired for construction jobs, and, when the plant has been completed, Cronus anticipates employing 175 people.
Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., said that a lot of behind-the-scenes work is already underway for Cronus.
"We are working on water line easements, and we just finished an aerial survey of the water line corridor," Moody said. "We are closing on properties, and we have had a lot of meetings with contractors."
Moody said that Cronus has set up a temporary office in his suite in the Tuscola City Hall.
"I expect them to set up additional offices in the next several months," Moody said.
The company recently announced it has signed an engi-neering, procurement and con-struction contract with Tecnimont S.p.A., a subsidiary of Italy-based Maire Tecnimont S.p.A.
Lundy said the company hasn't set a specific date to begin breaking ground on the project, but it will be sometime this year.
"We expect to have some construction workers on the site starting in the fall," Moody said. "By the first of the year, more activity will get under way, with a couple hundred people working. By the end of the year, that number will jump to the thousands."
Moody said he isn't concerned the plant will take employees away from Cabot or Lyondell Chemicals.
"We have had good conversations between the companies," Moody said. "There are very competitive wages across the companies. There are going to be a lot of opportunities for chemical workers, operators and engineers and for people with basic science, chemistry and math skills. We expect they will hire employees in waves."
Lundy anticipates the plant will be fully operational sometime in 2018.
To give you an idea of the scope of the Cronus operation, Lundy said, the plant will be producing about 800,000 tons of anhydrous ammonia every year, with that product being converted to 1.4 million tons of granular urea.
And, when the plant's work is done, Lundy said farmers here and across the country will be able to buy the Douglas County-made fertilizer under the Cronus brand.
Tuscola City Manager Drew Hoel said that, while the plant is outside the city limits, he anticipates Tuscola will benefit from the arrival of Cronus.
"We will see some impact from it," Hoel said. "We will experience additional traffic from the construction workers associated with it. Certainly, during construction a very large number of construction employees will be housed here, will eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores. It is also reasonable to assume that some of the permanent employees will also locate here."
Hoel said it is possible that Tuscola's assessed valuation could increase as an indirect result of Cronus' arrival.
He added that Tuscola's fire department has already been trained with some of the specialized technical skills they might need at Cronus, since Tuscola firefighters already respond to calls to Lyondell Chemicals, Bassell and Cabot.