Forward thinking and a tax abatement are opening doors for one of Lawrence's largest employers.
North Carolina-based Amarr Garage Doors has a $17.39 million expansion in the works at its manufacturing plant in Lawrence's East Hills Business Park. Delbert Phlipot, Amarr's vice president of manufacturing, said the project would not have been possible without the city's help.
"Lawrence really stepped up and came through for us this fall," Phlipot said.
In November, the City Commission unanimously approved a 10-year, 55 percent tax abatement to help finance Amarr's expansion. Phlipot said the 120,000-square-foot expansion would be completed by 2007.
"We are very excited about the expansion," Phlipot said. "It is key to our future growth in the industry."
The expansion provides additional space for Amarr's current operations while making room for the construction and installation of new product lines. It also allows the company to stock other ancillary products for existing distribution networks.
Phlipot said Amarr's newest production line would make a stamped-steel carriage house door.
Amarr came to Lawrence in 1989, when it partnered with two other door companies to form Garage Door Group. The three firms opened a 120,000-square-foot plant together in East Hills and hired 60 employees.
In 1995, the plant doubled in size, and by 1998, Amarr had bought out its partners. The company had 350 employees and a payroll of $8 million at the time. Today, Amarr has 450 employees.
Kirsten Krug, Amarr human resources manager, said the expansion would bring 80 new jobs with it over the next three years. The new jobs will pay a living wage of at least $9.53 an hour plus benefits.
"These are the kind of value-added positions communities like to see," Krug said.
Tawnya Johnson, manager of existing business programs at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said Amarr was an asset to Lawrence and surrounding communities.
"Amarr provides quality jobs in Douglas County, therefore bringing workers and revenue into the area," Johnson said. "We were thrilled to see the company further its commitment with the expansion."
Without the city's tax abatement, Amarr officials had hinted they might take the expansion elsewhere. Butler, Ind., and Whitehouse, N.J., were mentioned last year as possible alternatives, an Amarr vice president said in a letter to city officials.
"Of course, we didn't want to see that happen," Johnson said.
Amarr has received tax abatements in the past. In 1992, the company received a 10-year, 50 percent abatement on $3.8 million worth of equipment. Another abatement for a $7 million expansion project was granted in 1994. And in 1998, Amarr got tax relief for $3.65 million in machinery and equipment.
"The city of Lawrence has been good for Amarr, and Amarr has been good for Lawrence," Phlipot said. "We view ourselves as good corporate citizens with a positive impact on and in the community."
Krug said Amarr was active in Lawrence charities. The company raised $47,000 for the local United Way campaign last fall, she said.
"We love to get involved and show people what we're about," Krug said.
Phlipot said Amarr, which considers itself the fourth-largest producer of residential garage doors in the nation, was committed to continued growth.
"We've been aggressive in the market since the beginning and will continue to be," he said.