Economic director refuses to discuss potential project

Cronus Chemical LLC is seeking tax breaks to locate a $1.2 billion fertilizer company in either Illinois or Iowa

Mike Wiser
Published: March 24 2013 | 5:25 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 1:09 pm in
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DES MOINES — Iowa’s top economic development director remains tight-lipped about a potential fertilizer plant in northern Iowa, even as officials in Illinois move ahead with their incentive package.

“First of all, we don’t talk about projects we may or may not be working with,” Economic Development Director Debi Durham said Friday. “But here’s what I’ll tell you: Before any project ever comes to our board of directors, they have to show us how they are going to finance it. So until that happens, you’re not going to see any activity on our part. They do not have an application before our board.”

Durham was speaking after a taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” show where she fielded questions about selling the state to prospective companies, her role in offering millions in tax incentives to an Egyptian-owned conglomerate to build a fertilizer plant in Lee County and her own political future.

Cronus Chemical LLC is seeking tax breaks to locate a $1.2 billion fertilizer company in either Illinois or Iowa, according to documents being passed around the Illinois Statehouse.

Officials with the company plan to meet with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and others on April 10, according to Illinois Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, who is shepherding a series of tax incentives for the project through the Illinois House.

Company officials apparently told lawmakers that they’re also in conversation with economic development officials in Iowa about prospective sites and have said Iowa has offered $35 million in incentives if Cronus picks the Hawkeye State.

But Illinois officials are adamant that they won’t get into a bidding war with Iowa over incentives.

It was precisely that type of one-upmanship between the two states that led to Iowa sweetening its offer to Egyptian-owned Orascom Construction Industries last year, promising up to $100 million in state incentives on top of local and federal benefits to build in Lee County.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate say that Durham and her boss, Gov. Terry Branstad, were “suckered” by the company.

On Friday, Durham stood by the deal — as she has done before — and called the complaints “political theater” by Democrats.

Asked about her own political future, Durham, who was the 2002 Republican lieutenant governor nominee, said she won’t be appearing on a ballot again.

“No,” she said. “I did that once, and though I don’t regret it, it’s not something I quite frankly enjoyed.”

The “Iowa Press” episode will be broadcast at noon Sunday. “Iowa Press” will be available online at www.iptv.org.

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