Rolling Meadows is fighting to keep Weichai America Corp.'s national headquarters and planned research and development facility in town.
Weichai bought the two-story former Unilever building at 3100 Golf Road about two years ago. Vacant for five years, the 1960s-era building needs a lot of renovation before it can house the North American branch of a world giant in the engine and motor business.
Last week, the Rolling Meadows City Council approved Weichai's application to Cook County for a property tax break for renovating the building. The company missed out on a bigger break because it started work before applying for it, said city officials.
Houman Kashanipour, president of Weichai America, said the building needs more than $4 million in additional work, besides equipment.
He told the city's economic development committee that Weichai could still decide to put its North American headquarters in Windsor, Ontario. He was not with the company when renovation started on the building.
Still, "The management team is working "to make this thing work financially and keep expansion in Rolling Meadows," he said. "This is an $18 billion company that has no presence in America."
Kashanipour said Weichai builds engines of all kinds and potentially will develop ones that use alternative fuels. The company will employ highly skilled engineers and technicians, he added.
Linda Liles Ballantine, executive director of the Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce, is leading the fight to keep Weichai here. She said local company officials are facing a deadline to show the building is cost effective.
It's especially difficult for owners from another country to navigate bureaucracies and find all the tax breaks that can help make a project viable, said Ballantine. Her role has been working with all levels of government to help the company "catch up" before top officials decide to move the operation to Canada.
Ballantine said Monday that city officials have worked hard on this project, too. She said the goal is not only to keep Weichai, but to help the company expand here.
"This will be a coup for the city, for the state and for the country," she said. "There is no doubt in my mind they will position themselves as number one in natural gas-powered engines and motors."
Kashanipour singled out Ballantine for public praise at the meeting. Afterward, Mayor Tom Rooney said it was good to see her get the recognition for all her hard work on behalf of Weichai.
Company officials have offices in the building now and are going to trade shows.
The company needs to do $4.4 million worth of construction to the building, in addition to the equipment it would install, he said. That includes replacing three inefficient boilers original to the building.
Eventually Weichai will look for manufacturing space in the area, said Ballantine.
She is now working on getting them research and development incentives and energy credits.
This is Ballantine's second go-round on helping a company get settled in that particular building. She was here when the city got Helene Curtis to move into the building and even helped them with their research and development by using their test products on her hair and skin.
Helene Curtis was later purchased by Unilever, which closed the center in 2007.