Weber-Stephen breaks ground in Huntley; $4.2 million state incentive for new interchange

Palatine-based Weber-Stephen Products LLC, maker of the iconic barbecue grills, started construction Friday on a global distribution center in Huntley. But estimates on the number of jobs the center will create vary widely.

The state of Illinois provided a $4.2 million incentive package, and officials said the company agreed to add 120 new jobs. But that number is higher than what the company projects — and far less than estimates from the village of Huntley.

Weber-Stephen officials put the number at 50. The company will convert additional space in its current Huntley manufacturing plant to more manufacturing, which will lead to additional job creation in the future, said Weber corporate marketing Vice President Brooke Jones.

Huntley's Business Recruiting Coordinator Victor Narusis said the project will create 600 new jobs and retain 479 jobs for nearly 1,100 workers in Huntley in the next couple of years. And a report dated in April by the village of Huntley projected 450 new jobs.

Despite the conflicting job numbers, the new 750,000-square-foot facility aims to consolidate distribution operations that are now in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada.

Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials attended Friday's groundbreaking.

“We're really excited to be growing the business,” said James Stephen, executive chairman of Weber-Stephen. “We've had a partnership with Huntley for almost 20 years and this is the natural place for us to expand our distribution. To have the governor come and be part of this was absolutely an honor. We're proud to be an Illinois company and we're just looking to keep growing.”

Weber-Stephen considered four other states for its expansion before deciding on keeping the project in Illinois. In exchange, Illinois officials provided an estimated $4.2 million over 10 years. The incentive is primarily a credit against the company's state income tax liability under Illinois' Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE program. The incentive package includes a $60,000 investment for job training.

Weber-Stephen's late founder George Stephen Sr. produced the first Weber Kettle grill in 1952. He invented the product because he was frustrated with the uneven and uncontrollable flame of open brazier grilling at his home in Mount Prospect.

The firm manufactures charcoal, gas and electric grills and accessories and has always been based in Illinois. Weber-Stephen employs 2,100 people worldwide, including about 1,500 in Huntley, Palatine, Schaumburg, Elgin and Rolling Meadows.

“They're growing this company, it's exporting to the whole world,” said Gov. Pat Quinn. “This is a product that is all about food. I think all of us understand food brings people together … George (Stephen) came up with a better idea of how to prepare food, especially barbecue and grilling and all the things we take for granted in America.”

Quinn hailed Huntley as a “strategic location” between O'Hare Airport and the Rockford airport.

The EDGE program, administered by DCEO, requires companies to meet agreed-upon targets for job creation or retention and capital investment to receive the credits. The agreement with Weber requires the company to invest at least $26.6 million in its new building on Freeman Road east of Illinois Route 47, over the next 10 years. Duke Realty Corp. will build, own and lease the facility to Weber.

An even larger state investment made the Weber expansion project possible while supporting additional development in Huntley. In November 2013, the $59 million full-access interchange opened at I-90 and Illinois Route 47. The interchange, which came in at $2 million under budget, had 75 percent funding from the state and the rest from local sources. A study commissioned by Huntley said the interchange will create nearly 12,000 retail, office and light industrial jobs in the region by 2030.

“The groundbreaking (on Friday) is the result of close and careful cooperation between the state and local officials,” DCEO Director Adam Pollet said. “Weber is taking an important step here that will encourage other employers to build in Huntley and surrounding communities.”

• Daily Herald Staff Photographer Laura Stoecker contributed to this story.

  Gov. Pat Quinn gives a thumbs-up to attendees as he arrives for the Weber-Stephen Products groundbreaking ceremony in Huntley on Friday. Laura Stoecker/
  Huntley Mayor Charles Sass presents Weber-Stephen Products Executive Chairman James Stephen with a certificate of recognition at the groundbreaking event for the company's new global distribution center in Huntley on Friday. Laura Stoecker/
  Gov. Pat Quinn speaks the audience at the Weber-Stephen Products ceremonial groundbreaking of their new global distribution center on Freeman Road in Huntley on Friday. Laura Stoecker/
  Visitors begin to arrive for the groundbreaking ceremony of Weber-Stephen Products' new global distribution center on Freeman Road in Huntley on Friday. Laura Stoecker/
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