Like many small towns, the forces of technology and globalization have transformed Tuscola, Illinois.
Over the past 30 years, some local employers have shrunk their workforces from thousands of employees down to just a few hundred, and young people have increasingly fled to big cities in the pursuit of opportunity. But today, Tuscola — with help from freight rail — is creating new economic growth by leveraging Illinois’ central location, world-class transportation infrastructure and its highly trained and motivated workforce.
After considering 76 sites that stretched across nine states, Cronus Chemicals approached Brian Moody, Executive Director of the Tuscola Chamber and Economic Development, about building a new fertilizer production plant in Tuscola. From there, Moody connected Cronus Chemicals with CSX Transportation (CSX) and its Select Site program.
Launched in 2011, the Select Site program identifies properties that are suitable for economic development and easily served by freight rail. Under the program, CSX representatives work with experts in industrial site selection to determine if a location meets a rigorous list of development criteria, including infrastructure and utility availability, environmental reviews, appropriate zoning and entitlement, air quality permitting, rail access, proximity to highways or interstates, and other attributes. Programs like Select Site give a community a competitive edge by making a rail-served site more attractive to companies and site selection specialists, who are looking for locations for business startups, expansions or relocations.
In Tuscola, CSX reviewed 240 acres of farmland west of town and near Interstate 57, and determined that the area was physically, legally and logistically capable of hosting a large-scale business. Through close collaboration with CSX, Cronus Chemicals chose the Tuscola site for the construction of a $1.5 billion fertilizer production plant.
“After an exhaustive process, we are thrilled to bring this fertilizer plant to Illinois and we look forward to working with the Tuscola community to create high-quality fertilizers for Midwestern farmers,” said Erzin Atac, CEO of Cronus Chemicals. Construction began fall 2016 and will last nearly three years.
According to early estimates, the facility is expected to create approximately 2,000 temporary construction jobs and 175 permanent jobs, and generate an annual economic impact of more than $110 million. One of the largest private investments in central Illinois since Mitsubishi Motors opened an auto factory in 1988, the Cronus Chemicals facility is located in Tuscola because of the CSX Corporation Select Site program.
“Illinois is proud to partner with Cronus Fertilizers, and I welcome the thriving and innovative giant to Tuscola,” former Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn said. “A new plant here in the Heartland will provide an enormous benefit for our Central Illinois economy, provide a locally made product for our farm industry and create thousands of well-paying jobs for the hardworking men and women of our state.”
By determining the suitability of prospective properties, CSX saves businesses significant amounts of time and money that would otherwise be spent reviewing prospective sites. And since CSX Select Sites are located on or near rail lines, businesses know they can benefit from the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of freight rail. Indeed, Moody confirmed that the ability to build rail infrastructure on-site was a major selling point for Cronus executives, who are planning to ship large quantities of fertilizers to East Coast markets.
“It has really been a positive relationship,” said Moody. “It allows us, as a very small community, to be a player in large-scale economic development.”
CSX’s focus on identifying economic development opportunities mirrors that of other railroads. All major freight railroads actively work with current and potential customers to identify the best opportunities along their rail lines. Many short line and regional railroads also create economic opportunities for small towns. These railroads are frequently the primary transportation preference for communities where a single industry can make the difference between boom and bust.
For example, Genesee & Wyoming’s (G&W) more than 100 short line railroads work with local economic development officials across the country to identify and market sites for development. Recently, one of G&W’s short line railroads helped identify property in Arizona, where a Midwestern egg producer built four new farms. All four farms are adjacent to short line rail service, allowing the delivery of chicken feed by rail and helping the producer expand to West Coast markets.
To Moody, this type of partnership is invaluable to any small town. “People see opportunity, and they really see the value in pursuing it,” he said. “CSX has really helped us tell the story of a small town that has gone boom, bust and about to boom again.