CLINTON — Members of the Clinton Regional Development Corp. board watched bulldozers and excavators whir through the Lincolnway Railport Wednesday as work continued on the future site of RAIL.ONE.
The company will be the first rail-served tenant at the site, with wooden rail tie recycler, Nevada Railroad Materials (NRM) following them to the park, which sits off U.S. 30 and 44th Avenue South.
Ron Christensen, the job superintendent for Neumann Brothers, the general contractor for the RAIL.ONE project, said work is ahead of schedule with about 30 percent of the project complete.
“The building itself, the concrete floors and the foundations, will be done about the middle of August and then the actual building shows up on site and we’ll start erecting the building,” Christensen said. “It will be done by the first of November, which is when all the internal fixtures come in. Then it will be up and running by the first of January.”
Besides the 38,000 square foot building that will be constructed, crews are working on the outdoor storage yard where ties will be stacked to complete a 21-day curing process before they are loaded on the tracks.
Crews will start laying the track in September to serve RAIL.ONE from the Union Pacific mainline by the time the factory begins operating in January.
The project is a major milestone for the CRDC and the region as economic and civic leaders have worked for more than a decade to make the railport a global gateway through mainline access to the UP railroad. RAIL.ONE is expected to make a $20 million initial investment in Clinton with an annual impact of $15.2 million.
The CRDC is still working on the site to secure water resources and road access. They also hope to have the site certified by the state as a supersite, indicating to companies that it is shovel-ready.
However, not everyone is convinced the CRDC has done enough for the communities within the region.
The CRDC represents the areas of Clinton, Camanche, Low Moor, Fulton, Ill., Albany, Ill., and Thomson, Ill., to enhance the regional business climate, attract new investment, expand existing industry and encourage new quality jobs.
The group was questioned this year by two municipalities that support it. The CRDC is funded 30 percent by government entities and 70 percent by corporate funds.
First, the Clinton City Council during its budget discussions questioned its annual contribution to the CRDC. Ultimately the city did not alter the amount.
At a meeting earlier this month, some members of the Camanche City Council also questioned its annual contribution, which is $10,000.
Camanche officials raised concerns over the CRDC’s lack of a leadership since former CEO Steve Ames left for an economic development job in California late last year. Recently, the CRDC also lost its other paid staff member, Karen Mallinger, leaving Phelan to serve as the interim CEO.
City council members also raised concerns that the CRDC hasn’t directly made a positive impact in Camanche in recent years.
Tom Roth during the Wednesday CRDC board meeting said he believes the economic development group benefits the city by bringing development to the region and nurturing business expansion.
“There is so much more to community development than just having something in your town,” Roth said.
Roth pointed out that Camanche hasn’t made the same financial investment in the railport as Clinton and Clinton County has. Yet, Camanche will reap some of the benefits.
Phelan, who will speak to the Camanche City Council at its Aug. 6 meeting, said a number of the RAIL.ONE employees will likely call Camanche home.
“RAIL.ONE is going to hire 65 people, roughly. Where are those people going to live? Well the closest community to the railport is Camanche,” Phelan said. “It’s logical that a large percentage of those people are going to live in Camanche and the railport is in the Camanche School District.”
While he acknowledged the CRDC needed to better communicate with its partners, Phelan said with the ongoing progress at the RAIL.ONE site, the forthcoming sale of property to NRM and the active search for a new CEO, the CRDC is thriving.
“I believe our organization is stronger than it’s ever been and we’re going to move forward,” Phelan said.