Packerware Corp. is planning a "major expansion" that could pump $58 million and 78 employees into its Lawrence plant during the next three years, a company official said Thursday.
The project would add to Packerware's thermoform manufacturing capacity - the company already makes plastic cups, dinnerware, containers and lawn-care products in Lawrence - and be targeted for "start-up" in the third quarter of next year, said Brent Beeler, chief operating officer for Berry Plastics Corp., which is Packerware's parent company.
Packerware has about 450 employees and operates a 470,000-square-foot plant at 2330 Packer Road, which is along North Iowa Street north of the Kansas Turnpike.
"Berry is evaluating the Lawrence, Kansas, location for the project," Beeler said, in a statement released late Thursday.
Beeler and other Berry officials were unavailable for comment, having departed for the Christmas holiday weekend. Joel Plaas, Packerware's plant manager in Lawrence, declined to discuss the company's plans, referring all questions to Berry's corporate headquarters in Evansville, Ind.
In his statement, Beeler did not say whether other communities were being considered for the expansion. Berry, through its subsidiaries, has 23 other plants in the United States, plus one each in England, Italy and Mexico City.
But Lavern Squier, president and chief executive officer of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said Berry had spent months considering other options and recently had agreed to focus on Lawrence for the project.
"Berry wants to invest tens of millions of dollars in our community over a very short period of time, and take this plant to higher levels of efficiency and competitiveness in the market," Squier said. "That is a tremendous gain for the community - the city, the county and the region. :
"We're just appreciative that they're willing to make that kind of investment in the community."
Company officials did not indicate how they would finance the project, but Squier and City Manager Mike Wildgen said company officials were preparing an application to use industrial revenue bonds and, in the process, request a tax abatement.
With an investment of $58 million in machinery, equipment and building expansion, Wildgen said, the company would be eligible under city policy to receive a tax break of up to 100 percent for 10 years.
"This is very sizable," Wildgen said. "This is a significant investment in our community."
Once the city receives the expected application - officials at City Hall were monitoring their e-mail accounts late Thursday afternoon - it would be delivered to Lawrence city commissioners, who then would be expected to forward it to the city's Public Incentives Review Committee. The committee would review the materials to see that the company would qualify under city rules, and forward the materials to Kansas University's Policy Research Institute to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.
Wildgen said that judging by discussions he'd had with company officials, the application would qualify for consideration.
Packerware received the city's first tax abatement, back in the 1960s, Wildgen said.
The expansion is the second such announcement for Packerware this year.
In September, the company agreed to lease 235,000 square feet of space at the former E and E Display Group building at the corner of 29th Street and Haskell Avenue. The company leased the space so it could close its 160,000-square-foot warehouse in Topeka.
The space was to be used for warehouse and distribution operations.
"It's not temporary, (and) it's not a long-term solution," Plaas, the Packerware manager, said at the time. "It's a midterm solution."
In his statement, Beeler, the Berry chief operating officer, said the company's continued expansion plans in Lawrence "call for a potential increase in capital investment and employment in years four and five of the project."