Martin Tractor Co. Inc. is looking to build on Lawrence's business prospects - and proximity to the Kansas City metro area - in selling and servicing heavy-duty construction equipment.
The Topeka-based company entered the Lawrence market late last year by opening a dealership along the south side of 31st Street, east of Haskell Avenue, that focuses on sales and service for backhoes, bulldozers and other equipment used by contractors and others in the construction industry.
Now the search is on for a larger site, one that could be designed to accommodate more trucks and motors and a whole line of agricultural equipment - from large combines to smaller units deemed appropriate for the changing landscape in Douglas County and other areas nearby.
"This area is underserved, and the growth potential for the next 30 to 40 years in this whole corridor is phenomenal," said Barry Partlow, who joined the company last year to run the Lawrence operation. "With that growth, unfortunately, will come a reduction in the amount of agricultural activity, but those 300-acre plots now in beans will become two- and three-acre plots with two kids and a mom and a dad."
Martin Tractor, the world's second-oldest Caterpillar dealer, now has 12 employees at 1135 E. 31st St. The company has a lease for the one-acre site through July 2008, by which time it hopes to have a larger place - three or four acres, most likely - secured.
No particular area of town has been selected, although the company has been reviewing options in Lawrence since at least late 2005, when it was checking out a site off Kansas Highway 10 at the southeastern edge of town.
The key will be to find a spot big enough to handle excavators, bulldozers and other heavy machinery that can cost $400,000 apiece, and give employees and customers room to demonstrate and test the equipment, Partlow said.
No precise timeline or budget has been set for securing new property, Partlow said, but he expects Martin Tractor's total investment in the project to rest in the "multimillion-dollar" category.
"We're in growth mode, and we're in this thing to stay," he said.
Martin Tractor, with about 290 employees overall, has its headquarters in Topeka and branch operations in Lawrence, Emporia, Manhattan, Colby, Chanute and Concordia.