Officials and residents of Chicago's sprawling 10th ward are hoping that CRRC Sifang America's new railcar plant will provide a much needed economic jolt to an area that was a vital part of the city's once thriving steel industry.
Last month, CRRC Sifang broke ground for the $100 million plant that will build cars for the city's transit authority and become the company's North American hub for the assembly of railcars.
In 2016, CRRC Oingdao Sifang Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of CRRC was awarded a $1.3 billion contract by the Chicago Transit Authority to supply more than 840 new metros to replace approximately half the agency's fleet. As part of the contract, the company agreed to make the metros in Chicago.
"This plant means everything, and it's a ray of hope for us," City Council Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, who represents the 10th ward, on the city's southeast side, told China Daily.
Garza said the ward is the biggest in the city, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan and stretching to the Indiana border. "We are about 78 percent Latino," Garza said of the area's makeup.
She said the ward at one time had nine steel mills.
"District 31 (a part of the ward) employed over 130,000 workers. When the mills left, so did the jobs and the restaurants, shoe stores and other small businesses," Garza said.
"The Chinese have signed a project labor agreement with the Chicago Federation of Labor," she said. "They have agreed to provide training, and we want to make sure that the people in this neighborhood get those jobs."
The plant will be on 45 acres in the Hegewisch neighborhood and will employ around 170 people, the majority of them union, high-skilled, sheet metal and electrical workers. It will also create nearly 200 construction jobs. CRRC Sifang America will spend $7 million to train the factory workers, according to a statement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office. Production will begin in early 2019 and after testing the rail cars are expected on the rails by 2020.
Jim Dombrowksi owns a restaurant and tavern in the 10th ward. "Hopefully, this plant will help to bring business back to the area, which had two steel mills shut down," he said.