MORTON — A gaping hole in the village's industrial base has been filled.
The former Star Leasing Services trucking company at 240 W. Ashland St., which closed suddenly in March 2015, has reopened as a Growmark Tank & Truck Center.
The center is operated by Bloomington-based Growmark Inc., a cooperative that supports FS agriculture and energy cooperatives.
"The Morton location is a perfect spot for us," said Mike Davis, sales and operations manager for the six Growmark Tank & Truck centers in Illinois and Iowa.
"It's centrally located, and its proximity to (Interstate 74) is great," Davis said. "Our vehicles can get on and off the interstate easily."
Morton Mayor Jeff Kaufman is thrilled about the renovated facility, and not just because of the jobs and increased tax base it has brought to the village.
"It's tough to create a new use for a facility this size. Growmark has done a great job inside and outside," Kaufman said. "This is a high profile location. It's like an entrance to Morton because you can see it from the interstate."
Kaufman said Growmark fits in with the Morton business community.
"Our businesses are self-reliant and want to be part of the fabric of the village," he said.
The Morton Tank & Truck Center, with more than 32,000 square feet of office and shop space, provides maintenance and service for Growmark equipment, including a fleet of 300 pressure vessels for anhydrous ammonia and propane.
It's also a manufacturing site for refined fuel tank wagons and liquid propane Bobtails that are sold to other companies.
There are 13 employees there, all full-time, including Davis. Six of the employees are technicians.
Some employees are newly hired, and some came from the former Tank & Truck Center on Baer Road in Tremont that Growmark was leasing, but Growmark plans to double the number of technicians in Morton to 12 by the end of 2018.
The projected figures still fall a short of employment levels at the site under the former owner, Star Leasing, which abruptly closed in March 2015 after moving to the site as Star Transport from Canton in the 1980s.
About 50 Star Leasing office employees lost their jobs, with no severance packages, when the company initially claimed the entire 300-truck fleet would be leased to Arizona-based Swift Transportation Company. But Swift shut down the operation, claiming the lease had been broken, former employees told the Journal Star at the time.
About 250 Star Leasing owner-operator truck drivers were offered an opportunity to keep their truck and drive for Swift, but the company has never publicly confirmed how many drivers accepted the offer.
Peoria auto dealership owner Jeff Green bought the former Star Leasing property early this year for $921,600 from Morton Community Bank. Growmark took over the facility in the spring and spent about $150,000 to renovate it prior to opening July 17. Davis said Morton contractors did about 90 percent of the renovation work.
"It's important to us to invest in the communities where we're located because those communities invest in us," Davis said.
Davis said Growmark has a 12-month lease of the Morton facility, then plans to purchase it from Green in March.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.