Lawrence is likely to be chosen as the site for a multimillion-dollar distribution center in early 2010, the leader of a local manufacturing company confirmed Tuesday.
Steve Brown, plant manager for Berry Plastics’ Lawrence operations, said his company has all but settled on Lawrence as the site for a new distribution and warehouse facility that is needed to serve the company’s growing drink cup business.
“Several developers are putting their proposals together as we speak,” Brown said. “We’re definitely past the need stage. We’re basically at the must-have stage.”
The project is expected to bring about 20 jobs to Lawrence from a warehouse in Topeka that Berry currently leases.
But Brown said the bigger impact is that the distribution center would give Berry more room to grow a new line of drink cup production at its Lawrence plant, which previously operated under the PackerWare name.
That drink cup line already has added 500 employees to Berry’s Lawrence plant since 2006, when city commissioners approved a 90 percent tax abatement to bring the new product line to Lawrence.
“That project has been extremely successful,” said Brown, who estimated Berry’s Lawrence work force now numbers about 950 employees. “It is ahead of its planned schedule by at least two years.”
The company had anticipated adding about 150 employees as part of the new product line, but demand has soared as the cups have tapped into the growing “green market” for products.
The drink cup line uses a new thermoforming process that allows cups to be produced with far less plastic resin, and at a weight that is about two-thirds less than a standard plastic cup. The cups have been popular with companies looking for products that can be promoted as being more environmentally sustainable, Brown said.
The company hopes to make a decision on a specific site by the end of March, Brown said. The company currently leases warehouse space along Haskell Avenue in the former E&E Display building. It also leases warehouse space in Topeka, and uses several semi-trailers scattered throughout Lawrence for storage needs.
Brown said the company wants to consolidate all its warehouse operations under one roof. The need to be close to the company’s manufacturing plant, 2330 Packer Road, has Berry leaders focusing on Lawrence sites.
“It really needs to be in Lawrence or in very close proximity to Lawrence,” Brown said.
Brown declined to go into detail about how large the facility may be, but said the project likely would involve constructing a new warehouse building because there are not any available Lawrence buildings that are large enough.
He also declined to give details about what locations in Lawrence the company is considering.
Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said her office has been working with Berry on the project.
“It would be a great project for the community,” Johnson said. “They have found a product that has been able to grow even in this economy. We definitely feel like we need to do whatever we can to be the ultimate location for the project.”
It wasn’t clear what type of incentives the company may be seeking as part of the development. The abatement city commissioners approved in 2006 included up to three phases of expansion and about $120 million in new investments. The warehouse project would be in addition to those.
Technically, the company has not started receiving the abatement. Roger Zalneraitis, the city’s economic development coordinator, said the company has waited to finalize the abatement until it completes all aspects of the expansion project. The abatement is good for 10 years.