The Association for K-10 Corridor Development Inc. hopes to help the U.S. Army find a new tenant for the Sunflower Army Ammunition plant near DeSoto once it shuts down later this year, salvaging some local jobs.
Hundreds of jobs will be lost when the plant closes, said Lt. Col. Richard Jackson, commander of the Sunflower plant. Army officials are considering a closing date in August, he said.
Hoping to ensure quality development along the Kansas Highway 10 corridor, the association plans to get the word out that the Army is looking for someone to lease the plant.
"Our role is mainly to let people know the facilities are available," said Charles Sunderland, association vice president. "Our hope is that maybe we can find a way to use the facilities and equipment in the plant and end up keeping some of those jobs in the community."
The plant is located on a 9,500-acre federal installation and is operated by Hercules Inc. under contract with the Army. The plant produces chemical munitions propellants.
MEMBERS OF the association's executive committee recently toured the the plant to get a better understanding of its unique characteristics and what kind of company would make a suitable tenant.
The association is a good conduit for information on the plant because it was set up to assess potential development in the corridor and share business information and contacts, Sunderland said.
The association is made up of representatives from the private and public sector, including officials from seven cities and two counties along the corridor.
Lawrence Mayor Bob Walters and County Commissioner Louie McElhaney are members of the association.
Sunderland said the association would spread the word with articles in their upcoming newsletter and by word-of-mouth.
"If you have 40 members talking about this, it will multiply rapidly throughout the business community," Sunderland said.
THE GROUP does not have a specific candidate for the plant in mind, he said, nor does it have the resources to investigate and track down potential tenants.
Jackson was quick to point out that not just any industry can move into the plant.
"I don't want to imply that there is a `For Rent' sign out in front," he said.
Potential tenants would have to meet strict U.S. Army regulations on plant operation and produce a product that is compatible with existing facilities.
"There is an opportunity for compatible leasing, but our facilities are pretty specialized," Jackson said.
The plant produces nitroguanadine, which is used as a propellant in tank and artillery ammunition. It also produces calcium cyanamide and guanidine nitrate, which are used to create nitroguanadine.
The most favorable scenario for the Army would be for a manufacturer of one or more of the chemicals to set up operations in the plant, Jackson said.
JACKSON SAID leasing the plant would benefit the Army and eventually taxpayers because it would provide a caretaker for the machinery.
The plant must be maintained after it ceases operations in case a conflict breaks out that would require the production of chemicals for ammunition.
"It's like a car," he said. "If you let it set out for five years and then try to start it up, you're going to need to put some money into it. Instead, let a friend drive it everyday so it will start up when you need it."
Initial studies by Hercules Inc. show that finding a tenant may be difficult, Jackson said.
"It doesn't look like there's a lot of interest in the products we make," he said. "As you know, the defense industry is not a growth industry right now.
JACKSON SAID that he valued the association's participation. "The Army appreciates the K-10 Corridor's interest. I think they've really taken a professional approach to development of this region."
Promoting the plant is the most direct involvement the association has had with a specific business along the corridor since it was created a few years ago, Sunderland said. It became a non-profit corporation last summer.
He said the association would probably become more directly involved with corridor development projects in the future.