Enterprise zone would stretch from Bloomington-Normal to Gibson City

Will Brumleve

News-Gazette

Monday, May 7, 2012 

GIBSON CITY — Public hearings will be held Monday in Ford and McLean counties for a proposal to expand an enterprise zone from Bloomington-Normal to the One Earth Energy ethanol plant in Gibson City.

The Gibson City facility is the only ethanol plant in Illinois not already included in an enterprise zone, and being included in Bloomington-Normal’s would allow it to take advantage of a variety of tax exemptions, said Ken Springer, senior associate for research and economic data for the Economic Development Council of the Bloomington-Normal Area, which is coordinating the proposal.

One Earth Energy, located in the Jordan Industrial Park, is particularly interested in using a tax exemption that applies to the purchase of natural gas, Springer said. The plant is a “heavy user” of natural gas and hopes to save between $350,000 and $400,000 in state taxes per year with the tax break, Springer said.

“From their perspective, it’s a competitiveness issue, and obviously the cost savings,” Springer said.

Public hearings on the request will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at City Hall in Gibson City and at 4 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal. At the hearings, the public will be invited to comment on the proposal, and information will be presented about the project, Springer said. Springer said he does not expect any objections.

“From our perspective, it’s a very low-risk proposal,” Springer said, adding that “the tax savings that One Earth Energy would receive would be state taxes, and there would be no local taxes in jeopardy.”

The Gibson City Council, the Ford County Board, the McLean County Board and the city councils of Normal and Bloomington would all need to approve the request, Springer said.

The proposal would amend the Bloomington-Normal enterprise zone so that it would be extended to the plant using a 3-foot-wide strip of public right-of-way, Springer said. The amount of land that would be added to the enterprise zone through the extension would total 0.59 square miles.

By law, the enterprise zone in Bloomington-Normal can include up to 13 square miles, and the zone currently has used about half of that total. Springer, however, noted that the expansion into Ford County would allow for an additional 2 square miles, providing a total of 15 available.

The enterprise zone was created in 1985 and is set to expire in 2015, Springer said, unless legislative efforts are successful to extend the life of enterprise zones in the state.

Because no more enterprise zones can be created in Illinois, the only option is to extend an enterprise zone from a community that already has one, Springer said.

McLean County economic development officials believe the proposal will provide economic benefits for the entire region. Springer noted that the One Earth Energy plant purchases about 9.5 million bushels of McLean County corn per year to produce its ethanol. That translates into about $60 million in income to McLean County farmers annually, based on corn priced at $6.32 per bushel.

Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey and Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen said they were supportive of the enterprise zone extension.

“If there’s no cost to any of the (government) entities (involved), why not?” Bowen said. “You’ve got to do what you can to put them on an even playing field with their competitors.”

“Definitely it will be an immediate benefit to One Earth Energy, which I’m all for, and I think there’s other businesses also that can benefit because of that,” Dickey said. “Anything we can do to help our businesses is a good thing, because they provide jobs, and things are kind of tough right now for everybody.”

Dickey said he has contacted Gibson City Council members about Monday’s hearing and has encouraged them to attend. Bowen said he plans to be there, as well.

The possible expansion of an enterprise zone into Gibson City was first made public in December, when Bowen announced at a county board meeting that the plant was interested in possibly having an enterprise zone in Rantoul extended to Gibson City. Since then, Bowen said, company officials “gave me an update that they were looking beyond Rantoul and toward Bloomington.”

Springer said he does not believe Rantoul’s enterprise zone is still being considered for an expansion to the plant.

One Earth Energy general manager Steve Kelly said his company continues to evaluate “if there’s some compatibility between us” and the McLean County enterprise zone, but he otherwise declined to comment on the proposal.

State incentives — which are available in all enterprise zones — include a sales tax exemption on all building materials used in any construction in an enterprise zone, subject to some limitations; and on machinery and equipment purchases if they are greater than a $5 million investment and result in the creation of more than 200 jobs.

There are also possible state utility tax exemptions, investment tax credits, jobs tax credits, income tax deductions and loans available for the creation or retention of jobs.