The former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Ill., serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when government subsidies don't work out.
In 1985 Illinois gave then-Diamond Star Motors Corp. $249 million in incentives to open the plant in Normal.
The state added $30 million more in 2011. The plant closed in June 2016.
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Kyle Ham, CEO of Bloomington-Normal's Economic Development Council, said there is plenty of interest in the plant. But there is also plenty of hesitation because the plant is in Illinois. "The uncertainty is really what lowers us down a notch," Ham said.
Ham said he's spoken with a number of potential buyers. But that leads to another problem with the state. Illinois can't afford another $240 million dollar incentive package. Or even a package one-tenth the size, Ham said.
"Anytime we entertain anyone here there will be a conversation about incentives," Ham explained. "But I think most people realize Illinois is not in a position to give away incentives."
And the role of incentives is a part of the Mitsubishi plant's legacy, according to Greg LeRoy, executive director at the subsidy watchdog group GoodJobsFirst.
"It is a cautionary tale," LeRoy said of the plant in Normal. "You have to attach strings, you have to make sure you get a good taxpayer bang for the buck."
LeRoy said the 1985 deal was the most expensive in the United States at the time, and he said it's fair to ask whether the investment was worth it.
When the plant closed in June, 1,200 workers lost their jobs.
Ham said a liquidator bought the plant and is not looking to hold on to it for a long time. An auction is scheduled for August.
Ham said local leaders in Bloomington-Normal have an "urgency" to find a new user before the current owner scraps the plant.