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Hickory Farms to build in Illinois

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Hickory Farm food packages are popular holiday gifts.

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Plans are under way for Hickory Farms Inc. to build a 250,000-square-foot distribution center in Joliet, Ill., but the chief executive officer said the headquarters of the packaged-food distributor will remain in Maumee.

J. Langdon, president and CEO of Hickory Farms, said yesterday he will decide in the next two weeks whether to consolidate the company's two distribution centers, now in Maumee and a Chicago suburb, into one large operation in Joliet.

"The primary advantage of Joliet as opposed to Toledo is that we would be substantially closer to most of our vendors, because something like 90 percent of our product comes from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Chicago," he said.

The area has become a large logistics center because it is close to the intersection of Interstates 55 and 80.

The firm's tax-abatement application indicated 26 jobs, plus as many as 300 employees during peak seasonal shipping periods. A Joliet official said the company hopes to open the center by mid-2007.

If Joliet is chosen, four or five suburban Toledo jobs would be lost and 170,000-square-foot building in Maumee's Arrowhead Park would be empty. But Mr. Langdon said the headquarters building at Holland Road and Dussel Drive will continue to house 230 year-round employees, as well as its only call center, which can have as many as 250 workers during the holiday season.

The distribution center typically adds scores of employees during its busy seasonal time. The firm is best known for its packaged cheese and sausage, which are big Christmas-season sellers.

The company, which was started in 1959 in Toledo, was Arrowhead Park's first tenant, moving there in 1978.

The company, the CEO said, has not ruled out putting the distribution center in Maumee, but he said a prime reason to pick Joliet is that a building could be designed to suit current needs for refrigerated and non-refrigerated space. The firm is talking about rent and contract terms in Joliet, he added.

Hickory Farms last week was granted a five-year, 30 percent tax abatement by the Will County board of commissioners in Joliet.

Maumee administrator John Jezak said company officials are aware of what incentives the city is prepared to offer to land the distribution center, but he would not give specifics.

"We don't like to lose anybody but we understand what is involved in this project," he said.

John Greuling, chief executive at the Will County Center for Economic Development, said Hickory Farms would be the first tenant in a 450,000-square-foot building.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.

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