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Japanese trainmaker cuts ribbon at Rochelle factory

A host of public officials and hundreds of invited guests came to Rochelle Thursday to mark the grand opening of Japanese company Nippon Sharyo’s new rail car manufacturing facility there.  

Japan’s ambassador to the U.S., Ichiro Fujisaki, said it was a special day, and predicted a great future for the partnership.

As Kentucky in Japan is known as the state of Toyota, Tennessee for Nissan, Indiana for Subaru, and Ohio, Honda, Illinois will be remembered in Japan as the state of Nippon Sharyo.

The plant, which will also be the company's U.S. headquarters, will employ nearly three hundred workers.  Nippon Sharyo has a contract to build 160 new passenger rail cars for Chicago’s Metra.

Taiko Japanese drum ensemble thundered as federal, state and local officials mingled with workers and invited guests, took tours of the railcars that will be built at Rochelle, and surveyed the cavernous building.

Gov. Pat Quinn pointed to the investment the state made to lure the company -- the largest maker of high-speed railcars in Japan -- to Illinois: $10 million in tax credits, job-training funds, and infrastructure improvements, including $5.5 million for a rail spur from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line to the new factory.

He also credited the state’s pool of talent as something companies are looking for.

“We have well-skilled workers,” Quinn said. “One of the great things about our state is we have men and women who know how to work hard, get the job done, and get it done right.”

The state contributed to the demand side, too. Three years ago, Quinn signed a bill that gave Metra $585 million to purchase 160 new railcars. The law also made it clear that those cars should be built in Illinois.

Larry Huggins, acting chair of Metra’s Board, said he was looking forward to adding the new state-of-the-art cars, which include features like plug-ins for passenger laptops.

The company’s president also says it will encourage its suppliers to move close to the plant. One has already relocated to Belvidere, and more are expected to come to the area.  Jason Anderson says, as a result, it won’t be just Rochelle that benefits from Nippon Sharyo.

“We believe that this project will impact as much as a 100-mile radius of Rochelle,” he said. “The suppliers that are already supplying Nippon Sharyo come from within that range”

Anderson says he’s been told that the plant could result in another 450 jobs created or retained within that radius.

The Daily Chronicle also touted the event'sbenefits for the area,  and columnist and Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny of the Rockford Register Staroffered his viewof the festivities. 

Guy Stephens produces news stories for the station, and coordinates our online events calendar, PSAs and Arts Calendar announcements. In each of these ways, Guy helps keep our listening community informed about what's going on, whether on a national or local level. Guy's degrees are in music, and he spent a number of years as a classical host on WNIU. In fact, after nearly 20 years with Northern Public Radio, the best description of his job may be "other duties as required."