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Local Editorials

Our view: Manufacturer's interest a positive sign for Kendall Caterpillar plant

Caterpillar's Oswego Township plant on Route 31 near Montgomery.
Caterpillar's Oswego Township plant on Route 31 near Montgomery.

A portion of the former Caterpillar plant off Route 31 south of Montgomery in Kendall County could become the site of a commuter passenger rail car manufacturing operation, Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder told the County Board during an Oct. 6 meeting. Gryder said Bombardier Inc., a manufacturing company headquartered in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, may lease a section of the massive facility purchased earlier this year from Caterpillar by White Plains, New York-based Reich Brothers LLC.

Although Caterpillar announced the plant’s sale in February, it is expected to continue to use a portion of the plant and retain about 500 jobs in its engineering and product support divisions at the facility. Gryder said Bombardier would bring with it about 300 manufacturing jobs.

“It feels like it would be a huge win for Kendall County and for the area if we’re able to pull it in,” Gryder said.

But there is a but here. Gryder said Bombardier’s interest in the facility is dependent upon Metra’s board of directors awarding the firm a contract to construct the new rail cars under the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital plan. According to a news release from Metra, the board of directors for the commuter rail agency recently released their fiscal 2021 capital budget that includes $69.9 million for locomotive and car rehabilitation and $61.5 million for new rolling stock. The transit agency is expected to award a contract for the work by the end of this year.

As described by Gryder, Bombardier looks like it would be an ideal match for a significant portion of the Caterpillar plant while also leaving Reich Brothers with additional square footage for leasing to still more industrial tenants. Count us among those who are hopeful Bombardier will soon be calling the Caterpillar plant home.

As part of bringing Bombardier to Caterpillar Inc., we continue to believe it would be advantageous to the village of Montgomery, its taxpayers and to area residents for the village to seek the annexation of the plant. Since Caterpillar first opened it in 1957, it has literally stood on the village’s doorstep in unincorporated Oswego Township. If annexed, the village could provide the plant with a public water source and municipal police protection while assuming ownership of Caterpillar Drive, the four-lane private road that links busy Route 31 and Orchard Road. Opening Caterpillar Drive to through traffic would help relieve traffic congestion on nearby Route 30 and improve access to retail stores on Orchard Road. For the village, annexation would help boost the local property tax base while also enhancing the community’s status in the Chicago metro region as a serious player in the quest for industrial jobs.

We were skeptical over the fate of the Caterpillar plant when the firm announced it would halt manufacturing operations there in 2017. However, the sale of the plant earlier this year to Reich Brothers, coupled with Caterpillar’s announcement it will retain 500 jobs on the site and the interest shown by Bombardier, have us optimistic that the facility will be able to make the transition from a dated, mid-20th century manufacturing plant to a multitenant hub of diverse industrial users. If that does happen, it will assure the plant’s continued status as an economic engine for the village, Kendall County and the lower Fox Valley for decades to come.

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