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New base will keep big rigs rolling, add jobs

By Adam Jadhav


A U.S. trucking giant rolled into town on Tuesday, announcing a 440-job hub with the help of $7 million in state incentives.

Against a backdrop of the company's trademark bright orange tractor-trailers, elected leaders along with officers from Schneider National of Green Bay detailed a trucking service center in the warehouse sector along Illinois Route 111.

Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said the announcement should help mute critics who have questioned the commitment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to business.

"The proof is here," Lavin said after a ribbon-cutting, trucker style: A semi plowing through an oversized bright-orange bow. "All you have to do is look around here to see what Gov. Blagojevich is doing."

The 25,000-square-foot service center - essentially a private truck stop - will provide Schneider National drivers with maintenance, fuel, parking, laundry, Internet access and showers. In addition to the state incentives - tax breaks, grants and job training funds - the company spent some $22 million.

During the next two years, Schneider plans to hire up to 440 new employees from the region, mostly drivers, but also mechanics and other service personnel. State officials estimate a yearly economic impact of more than $50 million from those jobs and the center's traffic.

"With the forward-looking kind of leadership in this state, we're really happy to be here," said Wayne Lubner, a vice president of Schneider, which bills itself as the largest trucking company in North America. "We find the state of Illinois excellent to deal with."

That's in contrast to the criticisms of the trucking industry three years ago, when Blagojevich balanced a $5 billion budget deficit by tinkering with a variety of fees and taxes. Trucking registration prices increased by about $1,000 and a trucking tax exemption was ended.

In response, truckers said they'd take their business elsewhere. The number of trucks registered, by interstate agreement, in Illinois dropped 16,900 from 2003 to 2004, according to Mid-West Truckers Association Statistics.

As Illinois' economy improved - and criticism of the hikes rose - the Legislature rolled back some of the fees. Still, some truckers and companies remain flustered, said Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the trucking association.

"It's good that a company like Schneider is going to invest. That goes against the trend that we've seen for the last few years in Illinois," Schaefer said. "But it doesn't say anything about the thousands of trucks that still left."

Lubner said the company hopes to expand at the Gateway Commerce Center, if business goes well, creating up to 1,000 total new jobs in the future.

The commerce center has played a key role in the Metro East area's recent emergence as a hub for distribution and warehousing operations. Its major tenants include Hershey Food Co., Unilever, Procter & Gamble Co., Dial Corp., Buske Lines and USF Holland.

All together, the developments represent a chance for Blagojevich to improve his score on job creation, state officials said.

Still, some Republicans remain skeptical, said Patricia Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville.

"Our state is growing a little bit, but it's not keeping pace with the rest of the nation," Schuh said.

adam.jadhav@post-dispatch.com 618-659-3637

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