Lawrence-area business leaders spent much of 2002 trying to keep up with who was leaving town but began to see signs of a turnaround as the year drew to a close.
Two major employers, Sprint PCS and Davol Inc., announced in 2002 that they were closing their Lawrence facilities and would eliminate more than 600 jobs in the process.
The closings were a sign that Lawrence employers were being affected by the national economic downturn.
Lawrence's Sprint PCS customer service center was one of five the Overland Park-based company closed. The move was expected to save the struggling wireless telephone company $60 million a year. Sprint PCS closed the center in the Riverfront Plaza in June. The closing eliminated 500 jobs, the biggest job loss of the year for Lawrence.
Lawrence's Davol plant was one of three the medical device manufacturer slated for closure in a restructuring move expected to save the company $20 million a year. Davol announced in August that it would close its manufacturing plant at 700 E. 22nd St. by the end of March. The closing will cost the community 130 jobs.
Area business leaders also watched two of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's top executives leave their jobs in 2002.
In February, Debi Moore, the chamber's vice president of economic development, resigned from her position and was replaced by Lynn Parman. Parman came to Lawrence after serving in a similar position in St. Joseph, Mo.
In October, chamber president and chief executive Bill Sepic announced he was leaving the community to take a similar position with the Regional Chamber of Commerce in Lansing, Mich. Retired Douglas County banker Jean Milstead was named the chamber's interim president and CEO. A search committee is searching for a replacement and hopes to announce a new hire this spring.
During the past two months of the year, the focus turned to who was coming to town rather than leaving. In November, NCS Pearson announced a 45,000-square-foot expansion to its East Hills Business Park facility. The project will add 150 new call center jobs to meet several new government contracts the company has won.
In December, Serologicals Co., an Atlanta-based life sciences firm, announced it had chosen Lawrence for a new $28 million manufacturing facility in the East Hills Business Park. The new plant will employ 40 people with an average salary of $47,000 a year. The company will make a key ingredient used by several pharmaceutical companies in the production of drugs that treat certain types of cancer, arthritis and childhood illnesses.
Here's a look back at other major events in the Lawrence business community in 2002:
Farmland's future: Farmland Industries made it clear in 2002 that its approximately 600-acre fertilizer plant along Kansas Highway 10 would not reopen. After the plant laid off nearly all its 100 employees in 2001, the company in September announced that it would sell its Lawrence plant and six others as it tried to emerge from bankruptcy.
The Lawrence plant is the oldest the company has for sale, which has led industry analysts to predict the plant likely will not be used for fertilizer production again. Farmland officials have said they may clear ground and try to sell the land for other development purposes.
Fore!: Area officials are keeping an eye on the Lawrence-based Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. The company announced late this year that it is considering moving to either Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; or Jacksonville, Fla.; to be closer to other major golf organizations. Lawrence economic development officials are considering what they can do to convince the company to remain in town. The association employs 120 people and pays an average wage of nearly $43,000.
Kmart concerns: Lawrence's Kmart store wasn't among those the company decided to close when the national retailer entered bankruptcy in January. But business leaders continue to closely watch the company, wondering what the future may hold for Kmart's Lawrence distribution center, which employs about 450 people.
Kmart is preparing to make another round of store closings in 2003, and company officials have said changes to their distribution system also are possible. They've said it is too early to say whether the Lawrence facility may be affected.
Wal-Mart worries: Neighborhood opposition helped defeat a proposal to build a new 199,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Planning commissioners said the project was too large for the corner. Wal-Mart officials recently submitted a new, smaller plan for city officials to consider for the corner.
Packerware purchased: Lawrence's Packerware Corp. gained a new owner in 2002. Berry Plastics, the parent company of the Lawrence manufacturer of plastic cups and houseware items, was purchased by a division of the investment banking giant Goldman, Sachs & Co. The new ownership, thus far, has produced positive results for the Lawrence facility. The plant added 22 jobs late this year after work from some other Berry facilities was transferred to Lawrence.
Prosoco progress: Lawrence-based Prosoco announced plans for a 53,000-square-foot addition to the its corporate headquarters in the East Hills Business Park. The expansion initially will add eight to 10 new jobs for the company, which employs 80 people. But the new project will give the manufacturer of stone and masonry cleaning supplies the ability to add a second production shift, which could result in 50 new jobs in the future.
Hallmark happenings: Lawrence's Hallmark Cards production plant benefited from the company's decision to close its downtown Kansas City, Mo., facility. About 40 employees from the Kansas City plant were transferred to the Lawrence facility, which also was named the company's primary producer for the popular Shoebox Greetings card line.
Chamber campaign: Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials launched a private fund-raising drive in an effort to raise approximately $1.5 million in funding to enhance the community's economic development program.
A Forbes find: In May, Lawrence was ranked the ninth best small metropolitan area in the country for business and careers by the publishers of Forbes magazine. The magazine cited the city's growth in employment numbers and an emerging high-tech industry.