Lawrence’s business environment in 2011 is expected to be two-sided — and that’s a good thing, local economic development professionals say.
Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said she’s looking forward to major projects on both the east and west sides of Lawrence.
On the west side, Berry Plastics is expected to begin construction on a new 675,000-square-foot distribution center. On the east side, Plastikon Industries is expected to complete its move into the East Hills Business Park.
“Those projects definitely give us something new to talk about with site selectors,” Johnson said. “The consultants want to hear and see new information. They don’t want to just hear the same old things about how we have a great community and a great education system, and a great work force, which is all true, but it is not new.”
Both projects are expected to make a splash. The Berry Plastics deal is estimated at $20 million, and the building likely will end up being the largest in Douglas County. The site for the distribution center, which is just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, is expected to add momentum to efforts to use the interchange as a way to attract companies that want easy access to Interstate 70. Two other sites have been proposed for industrial uses near the interchange, although both have faced opposition from neighbors.
“I-70 is a huge benefit to the community, and we have to learn to take advantage of it,” Johnson said.
The Plastikon project is expected to make a different kind of impact. The company plans to move into a vacant East Hills Business Park building to start manufacturing plastic medical vials. The company is expected to employ 126 people over the next three years, with average salaries of about $47,000 per year. It also will give the city a high-profile project to tout in its efforts to land companies in the bioscience arena.
“The building hadn’t been used for four years, so this will help get more excitement going at East Hills,” Johnson said. “But the best part is that jobs really fit our community.”
The biggest question in the Lawrence business community may be whether consumers will join the fun in 2011. City Commissioner Aron Cromwell — who, if tradition holds, will take over as mayor in April — said he thinks the city’s retail scene will pick up steam in 2011.
“I believe very strongly that we have been spared the worst of the economic downturn here in Lawrence,” Cromwell said, pointing to unemployment numbers that are better than the national average.
“I would anticipate that in 2011 residents will become less susceptible to the national media reports about the economy and will start looking at the Lawrence economy and spending a little bit more.”
Figuring out how to boost retail spending is expected to get some attention at City Hall. The city’s Retail Task Force is scheduled to deliver its report to commissioners early in the year. The report likely will recommend ways the community can cut down on the number of residents who leave the city to shop. The report comes on the heels of one of the City Commission’s more controversial subjects of 2010: a decision to reject a plan for a Lowe’s home improvement store near Sixth Street and Folks Road.
Other business-related issues expected to emerge in 2011 include:
• Construction on a new $2 million Dillons store in the 1700 block of Massachusetts Street to replace its existing store.
• Continued efforts to finalize a $25 million plan by Lawrence-based Bowersock Mills & Power Co. to build a hydroelectric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River.
• Continued construction of a $10 million seven-story apartment, retail and office building on the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.