Vandalia’s fight to keep Orgill continues

Contrary to rumors that were circulating in the community late last week, Orgill Inc. has not yet determined where it will build a new distribution center.

That means that Vandalia is still in the running for that center, which will measure about 700,000 square feet and employ up to 350 people.

It also means that the company has not yet decided to close its distribution center on Veterans Avenue, which employs about 140 people.

Vandalia officials, along with state legislators and other state officials, are continuing to work with Orgill officials on this communitys incentives package in hopes of luring the new distribution center to Vandalia.

Vandalia and Sikeston, Mo., are the two communities competing for the new center.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Orgill employees were joined by a number of other community residents, including employees of Vandalia Correctional Center, in a community photo showing local support for the company.

Though the taking of that photo was organized in a matter of hours, between 200 and 300 people turned out.

The photo was taken 28 hours after Vandalia officials turned in their latest proposal for the new distribution center.

The process of pulling together improved incentives began last Thursday evening.

Mayor Rick Gottman said that as soon as he heard rumors that Orgill had picked Sikeston as the home of the new center, and decided to close the Vandalia center, he contacted state Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville).

Watson, the Illinois Senate minority leader, then contacted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor, in turn, told Watson to work with his chief of staff, John Harris, in coming up with state assistance on the project.

Watson said that while state officials are limited by state laws on what they can offer in terms of assistance to the city, he believes that the governors office has done all that it can to help Vandalia.

We are inhibited by state law, and there are programs that Missouri has that create more opportunities for incentives, Watson said.

But I feel like they (the governors office) have put together a real good package (for Vandalia), he said, and I feel comfortable about the state doing all it can do.

The governor understands that there is a real concern here in Vandalia about what will happen, Watson said.

He told the people gathered for the community photo, It is a real concern to me when I see these kinds of things go on and the impact of it on the people who work here.

Watson said a team effort helped to keep Vandalia Correctional Center open a few years ago, and hes optimistic that the team that has put together Vandalias package has at least put something on the table that is credible and, hopefully, competitive with our friends in Missouri.

He said that as he works with other legislators on a regular basis, one issue he always tries to address is improvement of state laws that would make Illinois more business-friendly.

Gottman emphasized that Watson has been a tremendous help in working to keep Vandalia in contention for the new Orgill facility. Also important players are those individuals who are serving on a team Gottman pulled together for this, and other, economic development issues.

The mayor has been in constant contact with Orgill officials over the past few days, either by phone or e-mail, to ensure that Vandalia is doing everything possible to remain in contention for the new facility.

I feel like we have put together a very lucrative package, that we have done all that we can to make Vandalia attractive to the company, he said.

I also told them that if they wish, we will travel to Memphis to meet with them and go over everything, Gottman said.

Justin Arndt, who drives a truck for Orgill, was instrumental in pulling together the community photo on Tuesday.

It all started, he said, with a few text messages and a few phone calls.

The employees agreed to pull together for the photo as a way of showing Orgill what the company means to them, and to the community.

Its my livelihood, so I, and a lot of other people like me, are going to do everything we can to keep these jobs, and to get more.

Its an asset for us, obviously, but its also a big asset for the community, Arndt said.

He believes that the city has done a wonderful job in trying to land the new distribution center.

Theyve been backing us 100 percent, he said. But its gone beyond that its at the state level, what the state can do to help out, Arndt said.

He and other local Orgill employees learned late last week of the possibility that the company would be relocating the local operations to Sikeston. At this point, hes not making any career decisions.

If it happens, well cross that bridge when it gets here, he said.

The company has not told employees that they could relocate if it does choose Sikeston. Arndt said Orgill has done that it the past.

I wouldnt rule out moving, but theres a lot of history here with family and friends, he said.

Local Orgill employees, Arndt said, continue to remain optimistic.

Were holding out hope, he said.

Theres still that little shred of hope that they will choose Vandalia, Arndt said. Thats the only way to look at it.

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