Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Plastikon Industries announce plans for new facility, 120 jobs in Lawrence

The East Hills Business Park, located along Kansas Highway 10 in East Lawrence, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008.

More than 120 new jobs are coming to Lawrence’s East Hills Business Park in what local leaders hope is the beginning of a bioscience boost for the area.

Leaders with Plastikon Industries confirmed Thursday that they’ve chosen Lawrence for a new plant that will manufacture plastic vials used in health care labs across the world.

“This is a great win for us,” said Beth Johnson, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “The jobs are going to be great.”

The company expects to hire 50 people initially, and then have employment totals grow to 126 workers within three years. The average salary for production workers is expected to be about $45,000 per year. When plant management and engineering positions are added, the average salary grows to $58,531 per year.

Company leaders have said the project will involve very few transfers from other Plastikon locations. Most of the new employees are expected to be hired from the area.

Economic development leaders said the project also should be good for the area’s efforts to attract more bioscience firms. Plastikon vice president Kaveh Soofer cited Lawrence’s “highly skilled biotech and pharmaceutical employment base” as a major reason the company chose Lawrence over sites in Chicago and South Carolina. The company, upon completion of the deal, will be the city’s largest private biotech employer, Johnson said.

“I think what it will do is increase the awareness of Lawrence in the biosciences arena,” Johnson said. “When other companies are looking at Lawrence, it will allow us to say that we have biotech companies of all sizes.”

Plastikon will buy a building in East Hills that once was supposed to be the next big development in Lawrence’s biosciences effort. As part of a $7 million deal, Plastikon will buy and renovate the former Serologicals building, 3780 Greenway Circle. The building has sat largely vacant since 2004 when plans to start manufacturing a pharmaceutical by-product fell through.

Plastikon leaders are not seeking a tax abatement as part of the deal. Instead, the company is asking the city and county to provide about $60,000 worth of workforce training assistance to the company during the next five years.

Under the proposed deal, the city and county each would provide $250 of training assistance per worker, but would be allowed to stretch the payments out during a five-year period.

The city is being asked to issue $7 million worth of industrial revenue bonds for the project. The bonds allow the company to receive lower financing rates, but do not obligate the city to financially back the project. Industrial revenue bonds technically take property off the tax rolls, but City Manager David Corliss said the company has agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes to ensure that the project pays its full share of property taxes.

City commissioners are expected to review the deal at their Tuesday evening meeting and send the proposal to the Public Incentives Review Committee for an official recommendation.

“It will be a good project,” Corliss said. “And it really is in a bit of sweet spot for us because it has a bioscience relationship and it is plastics related.”

The company will become the city’s second major plastics related company. Berry Plastics has about 950 employees in the city and is looking to expand with a new 600,000-square-foot warehouse.

Plastikon, based just outside of San Francisco, hopes to have the new Lawrence facility operational during the second quarter of 2011.