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posted: 9/12/2013 6:21 PM

Wisconsin incentives lure lighting business from Gurnee

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Gurnee and by extension, Illinois, are losing a valued business and several hundred jobs to a tough competitor to the north.

Kenall Manufacturing, which has produced high-quality lighting products in Gurnee for 25 years, will expand into a new, much larger facility in Kenosha with room for growth.

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The decision Thursday deflated a coalition of partners in Illinois that worked to keep the business here but came up short.

"We made a great case. The state was right there with us," said Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik. "We stayed on top of it. Wisconsin just made a better offer."

The company employs 350 to 400 people in a 136,000-square-foot facility at 1020 Lakeside Drive and expects to create another 225 jobs in the coming years.

"This shows how serious and successful Wisconsin is in helping businesses expand their operations and create new jobs," Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday in a statement.

The company received an unspecified incentive package to move to the Business Park of Kenosha just off I-94 at Highway 158.

Kenall considered 20 to 25 locations as part of an exhaustive search, according to company officials. The company declined to discuss details of the incentives, but said Walker was "very aggressive and responsive in his efforts to bring our business to Wisconsin."

"We'll be in the process of determining what the final package might be. It can take weeks to months," said Tom Thieding, spokesman for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Local, county and state cooperation on potential incentives wasn't enough.

"We did work really hard on this but we've got to do better. We can't compete," said state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who was involved in the process. "We're going to try and work on legislation that specifically deals with border communities."

For Kenall, construction on a 354,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is expected to begin this year and take 18 to 24 months to complete. The move also includes 13 adjacent acres for potential future use.

The new facility will include the most modern machinery and equipment for fabrication, finishing and assembly, a UL testing facility, interactive showroom and dedicated training center.

"We made it clear we were willing to provide local and county incentives as well as coordinating state opportunities," said Michael Stevens, president and CEO of Lake County Partners, the county's development arm. "We're hoping to sit down and debrief with the company to understand what we can do better going forward." Gurnee wanted to keep the cutting edge company, and Antioch pursued Kenall as a premier tenant to jump start activity at a shovel-ready but empty business park on Route 173.

"The biggest loser is Lake County and the state of Illinois," Antioch Mayor Lawrence Hanson said.

Kenall is second Lake County company within two weeks to be lured by Wisconsin. On Sept. 4, Hanna Cylinders of Libertyville announced it would relocate by the end of the year to a new production facility in Pleasant Prairie. That moved involved a $1.5 million financing package.

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