Pritzker touts early childhood education and manufacturing investments in the Metro East
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other state officials visited the Metro East on Wednesday to tout upgrades to an East Alton manufacturing plant and announce a successful first year of the governor’s early childhood education plan.
Wieland Manufacturing, an international producer of copper and copper alloys that’s headquartered in Germany, will make a $500 million investment in order to upgrade its East Alton facility, company executives said Wednesday.
The integrated brass mill is the main Wieland facility that produces strip copper products used in construction, munitions, auto, coinage and electronics.
Along with approximately $231 million in state incentives under a program meant to promote clean manufacturing and similar programs, the company will put $500 million toward building a new hot mill to ramp up copper production in the Metro East.
“We're creating a lasting impact on the world around us by helping achieve a cleaner and more sustainable tomorrow,” said Wieland CEO Erwin Mayr.
Wieland’s $500 million project will not bring any new jobs to East Alton, but it will maintain the current staffing level of 800 employees. Mayr said Wednesday’s announcement is probably the largest investment of its kind that the company has made in its 200-year history.
East Alton Mayor Darren Carlton said that the copper facility has grown the local economy for the past 100 years, and that investments like this allow many in the region to secure a good-paying job.
“We now look forward to the next 100 years with Wieland,” he said.
It was about five years ago that Wieland acquired the East Alton site, formerly Olin Brass, said Greg Keown, president of Wieland Rolled Products North America.
The East Alton facility is one of six in Illinois, Pritzker said. The company also has recycling facilities in Granite City and produces welded copper tubes in Cuba, Missouri.
Of the $231 million, $172 million comes in the form of tax benefits over 30 years, according to the agreement between Wieland and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Kristin Richards, who leads the state agency, and Pritzker both noted that Wieland could have a number of other American locations. However, they chose Illinois, and that’s a big deal, they said.
“One of the largest investments in the Metro East region in a generation,” Pritzker called it.
Early childhood education plan exceeds goal
Alongside the state school superintendent, Pritzker said on Wednesday that the state had surpassed its goal of enrolling 5,000 new students in preschool deserts — or parts of the state short on publicly funded early childhood education — in fiscal 2024.
Illinois enrolled 5,886 new preschoolers as part of Smart Start Illinois, the governor’s early childhood initiative proposed last year and a focal point of his 2023 budget address. The budget was passed by lawmakers and signed into law in June. In total, the initiative included $250 million for the first year of a four-year plan.
On Wednesday in Belleville, the governor said 5,383 children enrolled in a half-day preschool and 503 enrolled in full-day programs. Funding for the new slots came through a state board of education grant program.
“Because of this additional funding, our district has been able to expand our services to meet the growing needs of our community,” said Dustin Nail, superintendent of Harmony-Emge School District, a west Belleville elementary and middle school district.
Krista Lunz, principal of Ellis Elementary in Harmony-Emge, said the most recent grant allowed her school to expand its preschool program’s student population by 33% and enroll 70% of its wait list.
Next month, for his annual budget address to the Illinois General Assembly, Pritzker will propose lawmakers pass another $250 million budget item for Smart Start, according to his office.