Plans to expand Lawrence's Packerware plant have grown.
According to documents released Thursday by the city, the plant is now slated to add 76 employees and another $72 million in equipment and buildings to the company's current facility in northern Lawrence. That's in addition to the 78 new jobs and $58 million in new equipment that the company announced for the plant last month.
But it all depends on Packerware receiving the largest tax abatement in the city's history.
"We are very optimistic that we can grow," said Brent Beeler, chief operating officer of Berry Plastics, the parent company of Packerware, which produces plastic cups, housewares, garden tools and other items. "We think the quality of our staff in Lawrence is outstanding."
The expansion - which would begin between this year and 2009 - is contingent upon city approval of a 10-year, 90 percent tax abatement.
All the jobs in the project will meet the city's living wage requirement for companies seeking a tax abatement, the company said. Salaries would range from $21,840 to $72,800, with the average at $27,438.
Kansas University researchers have completed a city-mandated analysis of the company's abatement request. The review found that, over 10 years, the community would receive more than $4 in benefits for every dollar abated. City Hall's tax abatement policy requires that a project produce benefits at least 1.25 times the abated tax amount.
"It produced some good, strong numbers," Lavern Squier, president and chief executive of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said of the analysis.
Whether it will be strong enough for city commissioners to grant the abatement is an open question.
"I'm generally supportive of the request, but I'm not sure I support it at the 90 percent level," Mayor Boog Highberger said.
Highberger said he was concerned because the analysis showed the Lawrence school district would benefit far less than the city or county government - only breaking even after 10 years. A lower abatement, he said, would provide higher benefits to all three local governments.
But Highberger said he wasn't ready to propose how much the abatement amount should be lowered.
Members of the city's Public Incentives Review Commission will discuss that item during a meeting at 4 p.m. Thursdayat City Hall. Highberger, who chairs the committee, said he expected the meeting to produce a recommendation. The project could be up for City Commission approval Jan. 24.
Packerware, which was founded in 1968 in Lawrence, currently employs about 450 people.