This isn’t exactly the way Lawrence wanted to solve the problem of not having enough industrial sites to market to prospective businesses.
It doesn’t hurt for Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials to try to look on the bright side, but there’s no doubt that the exit of Sauer-Danfoss from the East Hills Business Park will be a big loss for the community.
Officials of the Germany-based manufacturer of motors and transmissions for heavy-duty off-road equipment announced this week that the company would shutter its Lawrence plant next year and move its operations to larger plants in Ames, Iowa, and Freeport, Ill. The Lawrence plant opened in 1999 and hit its peak employment in 2006-07, with a workforce of 280 people. Lagging market demand has shrunk that number to about 100 employees, about 25 of whom will be offered transfers to other plants. The others will find themselves out of a job between the first of the year, when layoffs begin, and June 2010, when the plant is scheduled to close.
It’s good news to Lawrence that Sauer-Danfoss officials seemed to truly regret having to close the local plant. A company official in town this week to meet with employees called the decision “heartbreaking,” adding, “It’s a wonderful facility with absolutely fantastic employees.”
Perhaps that quote can be featured on marketing materials for the building Sauer-Danfoss needs to sell and for which the Chamber of Commerce would like to find a new tenant. The 165,000-square-foot building is the largest of three structures now available in East Hills.
Given the circumstances, the Chamber of Commerce, which also is helping lead plans for a local summit on job growth, might as well try to make lemonade out of the lemons. The current climate has been tough on businesses across the country, but at least when the economy starts to stabilize and turn around, Lawrence will be ready. Some companies already are showing interest in the East Hills sites, said Chamber President Tom Kern. Now is the time for local business and government leaders to make sure they have the marketing and policies in place to entice prospective tenants to put Lawrence at the top of their lists.
Sauer-Sundstrand and, later, Sauer-Danfoss have been great corporate citizens of Lawrence. We wish them well and hope they’ll share their positive experiences with Lawrence with their colleagues who may be looking for a place to expand their businesses.