Think of how many times you’ve consumed a beverage out of a plastic cup. Those cups have to be made somewhere, and, thankfully, many of them are made right here in Lawrence.
Berry Plastics — which is a successor to the locally founded PackerWare Corp. — employs about 900 people in its plant in northern Lawrence. Business is booming. The company has come up with a new process that reduces the amount of plastic needed to construct a cup, making it both more environmentally friendly and more economical.
Business is so good that the company now needs a new warehouse and printing facility to keep up with operations. The company has submitted plans for an approximately $20 million, 600,000-square foot facility that would be built northwest of Lawrence near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.
It is quite a success story.
The company wants a number of financial incentives to locate the project in Douglas County. All community leaders would be happier if that were not the case. In past years, such requests were relatively rare, but in today’s highly competitive bidding for new industry, this seems to be the norm. The few major industrial projects that move forward in this economy almost always come with an incentives request. Other communities are willing to offer such incentives. We can wish the rules of this game were different, but it seems foolish for us to refuse to play.
Douglas County commissioners are scheduled to review the project and the proposed incentives today. The incentives are substantial. They include a 90 percent tax abatement for 10 years, and up to $600,000 in public improvements to a county road, a rural waterline and perhaps even some private roads for the warehouse.
County leaders have been studying the request for quite some time. Certainly, due diligence must be done, but it appears the project is a winner for our community.
Some critics have said the project is unworthy because it will only add about a dozen new jobs to Berry’s local work force. While that is technically true, it also is shortsighted. The new warehouse will allow about 200 employees to be transferred from Berry’s Lawrence production plant, freeing up space in the existing plant for new production lines, which will produce additional jobs.
Is there a guarantee that will happen? No. Those looking for a guarantee are probably in the wrong business. Economic development, especially in today’s environment, involves risks. The best a community can do is be thoughtful and bet wisely.
Simply put, Berry is a good bet. The company has a product with strong demand, it has a history of providing jobs in Lawrence, and it wants to construct a $20 million building that will be paying local taxes long after its 90 percent abatement expires.
We should welcome Berry Plastics and its project, and do all we can to ensure that Douglas County is a part of its future success stories.