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Vandalia plans to continue agressive recruitment efforts after Orgill picks Sikeston

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Within a week of learning that Vandalia will be losing one of its major employers, city officials voiced optimism about moving forward by continuing to aggressively market Vandalia to industrial and commercial prospects.

Orgill announced last Wednesday afternoon that it had chosen Sikeston, Mo., over Vandalia as the home for a new distribution center. That center will replace the ones currently being operated in Vandalia and Memphis, Tenn.

That announcement means that Vandalia had been unsuccessful in landing about 180 new jobs, and also that it will lose 140 jobs with the closure of Orgills local facility at the end of next year.

In making the announcement, Orgill President and Chief Executive Officer Rob Beal said the decision to build the new distribution center was based on the idea that the Vandalia and Memphis centers had become outdated and inefficient.

At the same time, Orgill officials said the decision to build in Sikeston was not a reflection on Vandalia or the beefed-up incentives package the city offered several weeks ago in an attempt to get the new distribution center.

We want to say emphatically that our selection of Sikeston in no way reflects upon the high quality of employees we have at the Vandalia and Memphis distribution sites, Beal said.

They are great people, and we will do all we can, in conjunction with their organized labor representatives, to help them with their transition to other opportunities, he said.

Sikestons location offers a great deal of efficiency, said Byrne Whitehead, Orgills executive vice president of operations and chief operating officer. It gives the company a consolidated location.

Ralph Berry of Thompson & Berry Public Relations said that Orgill is aiming for completion of the new distribution center in September of next year, and that the company will likely begin phasing out the Vandalia center in the fall of 2009.

Once the Sikeston location is up and running, the transition of moving inventory from Vandalia and Memphis will begin, he said. That transition, Berry said, should take several months to complete.

Orgill employees at the Vandalia center are not being offered transfers, Berry said, but they are certainly welcome to apply for positions at the new distribution center, and they do have experience to offer.

After hearing rumors late last month that Orgill had picked Sikeston for the new center, Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman immediately contacted state Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) to see if the state could help boost the package of incentives that Vandalia was offering Orgill.

Watson, the Illinois Senate minority leader, contacted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who directed his chief of staff to assist the city. State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville), the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and state Rep. Tom Cross (R-Plainfield), the Illinois House minority leader, also got involved.

Gottman and JoAnn Givens, the citys director of economic development and tourism, said they were told by officials with both Orgill and the consultants it hired for the new distribution center siting project that Vandalias incentives package was very competitive.

We had a very good package theres no question about that, Givens told members of the Vandalia Economic Development Commission on Monday.

Vandalias attempt to land the center included four face-to-face meetings with Orgill or its consultant, Givens said.

In between, there was a lot of other communication, including phone calls, faxes and e-mails, she said. They told us that (their decision) in no way reflects upon the employees (here) or the community.

Givens said she, Gottman, City Administrator Jimmy Morani put in a considerable number of extra hours working on the citys final incentives package, and that they had a lot of help from a lot of people.

This was truly a team effort, Givens said.

There has been one benefit surface from the unsuccessful attempt, she said.

I think you become closer and stronger as a community, Givens said.

We just have to move forward, pursue other leads and other options, she said. We will continue to market our community, both for commercial and industrial prospects.

At the EDC meeting on Monday, commission member Dale Timmermann said his feeling is that people in the community believe that the city did everything it could to keep Orgill in town.

And, he said, In the middle of adversity, there are always opportunities.

Theres a big facility there that the city can use in its efforts to recruit new industry, Timmermann said, referring to the facility currently housing Orgills operations in Vandalia.