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Archive for Friday, May 20, 2011

EN Engineering leaving Lawrence for Olathe after failure to reach deal

May 20, 2011

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A promising engineering firm and its 65 high-paying jobs are leaving Lawrence for Olathe after local leaders weren’t able to put together a deal to keep the company.

Economic development leaders confirmed that EN Engineering — formerly known as Wheatland Systems — is close to signing a deal to leave its longtime offices at 2110 Del. for an office building in Olathe.

Lawrence Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Tom Kern said the loss was a disappointment for a community that is trying to attract more high-paying jobs.

“These are the type of jobs we want to attract to Lawrence and they certainly are the type of jobs we want to keep in Lawrence,” Kern said.

The company has 65 employees, with many of the positions — sources said — paying between $60,000 to $100,000 per year. But the company was looking for new space because it expects significant new hiring — perhaps 20 to 30 employees — in the coming years.

No deal

Leaders with the city, county, chamber of commerce and private developers worked on several deals to keep the company in town. Proposals to expand the company’s existing offices on Delaware Street and to build a new 20,000-square-foot building either in East Hills Business Park or in the Fairfield Farms development at 23rd and were presented to the company, which insisted on a location on the east edge of Lawrence because some employees commute from the Kansas City area. The company also looked at the vacant downtown Borders location.

But then late in the process, Lawrence leaders were told the company had decided to sign a lease for a vacant building in Olathe.

“I think the chamber, the city and the county all were trying to find ways to enable them to stay in Lawrence, but unfortunately we never were really given the opportunity to work out a specific deal,” Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.

Disagreement

There is some disagreement in the private sector about whether economic development leaders did enough to strike a deal. Longtime Lawrence businessman Duane Schwada is a landlord for the company at its Delaware Street offices. Schwada said a key element in the project was extending EN Engineering’s lease — which expires in October — in order to give the company enough time to construct an office building in Lawrence.

Schwada said he offered to extend the company’s lease for two years to ensure it had enough time to get the building project through the city’s planning process and constructed.

According to multiple sources, EN Engineering officials wanted a shorter lease. A deal for a shorter lease wasn’t struck, but Schwada said he alerted local economic development leaders that a deal possibly could be helped along if the city, county or chamber — or some partnership — would agree to buy the company out of its Delaware lease, if necessary.

Sources said that a buyout of the lease likely would have been in the $30,000 range.

But Weinaug said the economic development team was never asked by EN Engineering to consider such a lease buyout provision, and Weinaug said he was uncertain whether he could recommend it to elected leaders.

“I personally couldn’t come up with a justification to pay a landlord for a lease for a purpose that wasn’t a public purpose,” Weinaug said.

Lack of communication

Some economic development leaders involved in the negotiations said they would have considered the deal, but by the time the option came into play, EN Engineering’s leadership — which is based near Chicago — already had decided to go in a different direction.

Some city commissioners, however, said they were disappointed they weren’t given the opportunity to make a stronger push on the deal. Both commissioners Mike Amyx and Mike Dever said they were never made aware that a lease buyout provision might have kept the company in Lawrence.

“When a business that has been in Lawrence for more than 15 years is considering leaving, we need to be made aware of what might be necessary to solidify their long-term relationship with the city,” Dever said.

Amyx and Dever said they were made aware that economic development leaders were working to keep EN Engineering, but both said they would have liked more information about how elected leaders could have stepped forward to seal a deal. Both said they would have given serious consideration to a lease buyout, especially if the amount was in the tens of thousands of dollars range.

“We work hard all the time to attract businesses from out of town,” Dever said. “The same effort needs to be put into retaining businesses, too. That means creative packages sometimes need to be put together.”

EN Engineering designs automation systems for industries nationwide. The business has been growing, in part, because it has strong footholds in the lucrative oil and natural gas industries. The company was known as Wheatland Systems until mid-2010 when it was purchased by Illinois-based EN Engineering.

Comments

George Lippencott 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, engineers are reputed to be left brained while Lawrence liberals are reported to be right brained.

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BigPrune 2 years, 11 months ago

We must not forget that engineers are involved in the decision making process.....which means these people think with the wrong side of the brain.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

BTW there is a Schawda in the chamber as well as a member of their legal counsel.

Same with First Management.

Can we say big time conflicts of interests?

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

Why do so many in the real estate industry and people like EN Engineering whine about taxes and tax dollars and government yet always show up at city hall looking for OUR tax dollars?

Aren't these groups among tax dollar evaders? Aren't these folks known as tax dollar moochers?

Why in the world should any applicant have access to OUR tax dollars without voter approval?

What do we get in return? Perhaps when the tax favors expire the tax dollar moochers suddenly must leave Lawrence and Douglas County. When will these profitable business management corporations learn to stand on their own?

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sherbert 2 years, 11 months ago

“I think the chamber, the city and the county all were trying to find ways to enable them to stay in Lawrence, but unfortunately we never were really given the opportunity to work out a specific deal,” Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said

Did the City ever ask 'what will it take to keep you in Lawrence?' Wondering if they ever even sat down together to discuss it. Sounds like a major lack of communication and then they wonder, 'what went wrong?'

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pace 2 years, 11 months ago

I think we might of been lucky.

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DeaconBlue 2 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence needs to get the toll, price to visit the town, increased. Increasing the fee to visit Lawrence will get thousands more people here and businessess will be fighting mad to relocate.

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JackMcKee 2 years, 11 months ago

It sounds like they were on the right track with the Borders idea. As we've all seen time and again, if you want handouts from the city you just have to find a way to make it sound like it benefits downtown. But seriously, who does Schwada think he is asking the city to buy out one of his tenants? Lawrence would be a far better place without business people like Schwada and a few other developers. For Schwada to blame anyone but himself for the loss of EN is delusional. Hey Scwada, next time instead of calling the newspaper to whine why don't you have a long look in the mirror.

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jafs 2 years, 11 months ago

The definition of socialism is an economic system with no private property.

Much of what is called socialist is not socialist at all.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

We've subsidized local profiteers at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe that status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of local profiteers driving and laughing all the way to the bank.

Taxpayers are over extended on corporate welfare. All we get in return is expanded economic displacement which is a drag on the economy. Meanwhile our taxes and user fees escalate.

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Gandalf 2 years, 11 months ago

jayhawklawrence

In fact, oftentimes, the vibes are very anti-business

Better get your vibe meter checked. It's not anti-business...it's anti-corporate welfare.

Please define the difference between socialism for people and socialism for business.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 11 months ago

Just to set the record straight; I couldn't give a rat's behind about the Chamber of Commerce.

I doubt if I know anyone over there. Their politics are a little too extreme for my taste.

But I don't think socialism or its evil sibling, Communism, works very well and the vibes I get in Lawrence from a lot of the chronic complainers seem very out of touch with business reality.

In fact, oftentimes, the vibes are very anti-business.

It is fairly obvious to me that the writing was on the wall when this company was sold to someone in Chicago.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 11 months ago

"A deal for a shorter lease wasn’t struck, but Schwada said he alerted local economic development leaders that a deal possibly could be helped along if the city, county or chamber — or some partnership — would agree to buy the company out of its Delaware lease, if necessary.

Sources said that a buyout of the lease likely would have been in the $30,000 range. "

This was the Schwada responsibility not the taxpayers. Blame all on Schwada Schwada Schwada!

All Incentives should come from the real estate industry and the property owners NOT the taxpayers.

The Schwada group are tax dollar moochers moochers moochers! Blame half on the company for looking to get a tax dollar handout. They are all tax dollar moochers.

I cannot afford Schwada or any other tax dollar moochers.

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George Lippencott 2 years, 11 months ago

Two points

Attracting jobs by paying a business to come/stay here is stupid unless the cost to all of us is offset by the return on the jobs generated. If they do not pay taxes, the rest of us must pay more. The employees who live here draw services here – supposedly paid for by their taxes – you cannot count those taxes twice. Yes they may frequent other merchants here but who exactly benefits from that – the taxpayers or the merchants?

High end business that employs skilled people must consider the environment offered. If there is an equivalent or better environment nearby we could lose. People in their thirties or older have different interests than people who are younger. Private sector employees are motivated differently than public sector employees. Step back and put yourself in the mind set of a mid years couple with kids seeking a nice home, responsible services and good schools and ask yourself how well we compete with JOCO.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 11 months ago

I don't know how you can "blame" anyone for this.

They were bought by a company in Chicago and they are in the automation business. They don't have any ties to Lawrence that make any sense as far as I can see.

You are going to have wins and losses. You have to have more wins to make up for losses.

The biggest problem I see in Lawrence is the negativity and lack of gratitude for the work that some of our community leaders try to do. Talented people are going to want to go elsewhere.

You can't get anywhere in this world by complaining all the time and looking for someone to blame.

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rwwilly 2 years, 11 months ago

I love blogs. It exposes areas human pysche and behavior that are difficult to observe anywhere else. Only in a blog can you read well meaning citizens truly laughable attempt to put a positive spin on a city (in this case Lawrence) losing 65 high paying jobs.

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George Lippencott 2 years, 11 months ago

dulcinea, it sure sounds like it. Why? Are our taxes too high so that the only way we are competitive is if we exempt businesss from them? Are our rules to tight? have our schools failed to keep up?

A business like this can go anywhere. What do they have over in JOCO that we don't have or what are we doing that their not that drives business to them?

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Adrienne Sanders 2 years, 11 months ago

Meh, it sorta sounds like the already wanted to move to the KC area and Lawrence would have had to offer a SUPER sweet deal to change their minds.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 11 months ago

In a vacuum, yes, it would be good if we did not provide benefits such as tax abatements for businesses. But we don't live in a vacuum, do we? If other cities or other states or other countries are providing incentives to businesses to relocate there, then Lawrence can either do likewise or see business get up and leave.
What Lawrence needs to do is have an objective bean counter weigh the benefits and costs of each deal and then make good business decisions based on those analysis. Standing firm to some ideological point of view might make us feel good but having a bunch of well educated people with well paid jobs in our community might make us feel good too.

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steveguy 2 years, 11 months ago

This is our Lawrence leaders at work, HA.

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akt2 2 years, 11 months ago

Olathe is a good choice. Engineers don't sit in the office all day. They have to go out to the various jobs and projects. Those projects are not in Lawrence. Olathe is less travel time to and from projects in the KC area and closer to the airport for the out of town trips.

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guess_again 2 years, 11 months ago

Schwada....

I've had experience with their remodeling in my neighborhood. I learned how little zoning, historical preservation review, and building permits matter to them. They intentionally violated the law with impunity through an un-permitted structure demolition conducted on a weekend.

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Bob_Keeshan 2 years, 11 months ago

So Schwada picks up the phone and calls Lawhorn to start spinning tales about how the city and the county have screwed him out of a client.

That's called CYA, a pretty stupid move by Schwada.

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ivalueamerica 2 years, 11 months ago

Why do corporations want so much welfare and why does the right think corporate welfare is a good use of our tax dollars.

By the time we give them hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax abatements, leas concessions, and other subsidies and tax breaks, they add no more to our economy than a McDonalds.

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macon47 2 years, 11 months ago

sounds like olathe put the hard court press on them and they figured out how un-important it was to stay in lawrence

many of us are tired of paying for all of the amenities that we never take advantage of in lawrence.

blame who ever you want but olathe simply wanted to have deeper pockets than lawrence was will to pony up in the same time frame

all we can do is form another task force to study the problem, how insane is that?

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homechanger 2 years, 11 months ago

Schwada -the greed got him this time. Chamber is asleep at the wheel ad usual. What does the chamber of commerce really do anyway ?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 11 months ago

It's certainly Schwada's right to insist on whatever terms he likes on his property, but clearly the main reason this company left town lies with that insistence, and the fact that they found a deal on a building they liked in Olathe.

It most certainly would have been inappropriate for the city to buy out the last year of that lease. Once the city becomes the last resort between commercial landlords and their tenants, we're on a slippery slope to the city becoming a (paying) party to every lease agreement in town for those landlords with the biggest political pull at city hall. (and Schwada would be on that list.)

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UNIKU 2 years, 11 months ago

The Chamber was too busy planning mixers with realtors, bankers and insurance agents to do their job...

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newmedia 2 years, 11 months ago

At least they didn't move to Missouri. The glass is always half full!

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Gandalf 2 years, 11 months ago

This is "much ado about nothing". Lawrence is not losing a good corporate citizen.

The people who commute from the KC area are not providing any benefit to Lawrence. The ones who live here and commute to Olathe do and that won't change unless they move. The buildings are still here and schwada still has to pay the PP tax empty or full.

This was just another case of a money grab from the taxpayers to benefit a very few.

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OonlyBonly 2 years, 11 months ago

Problem? "Duane Schwada." Why? Silly landlord insisted on a two year lease - all he had to do was agree to a one year lease. But no........ Not too many others to point the "fickle finger of fate" at in this fiasco.

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Robert Rauktis 2 years, 11 months ago

What do they want !?!?!? Are they a professional sports team !?!?!

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Chris Ogle 2 years, 11 months ago

“We work hard all the time to attract businesses from out of town,” Dever said. “The same effort needs to be put into retaining businesses, too. That means creative packages sometimes need to be put together.”

Um........ so what was this "creative package" that you proposed???

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DeaconBlue 2 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence don't need no 65 high paying jobs. They got McDonald's. Walmart and The Merc jobs that will do just fine.

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happyhippy 2 years, 11 months ago

I wonder how many of EN's employees commute from the Kansas City area? What would be the financial reasons to keep a business here when the employees don't live here?

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somebodynew 2 years, 11 months ago

Schwada = 'nuff said in my book.

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deec 2 years, 11 months ago

So maybe the building owner could have negotiated the lease the co. wanted without trying to put the arm on local government, and they would have stayed?

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 11 months ago

"Schwada said he offered to extend the company’s lease for two years"

"EN Engineering officials wanted a shorter lease."

"Schwada said he alerted local economic development leaders that a deal possibly could be helped along if the city, county or chamber — or some partnership — would agree to buy the company out of its Delaware lease"

"a buyout of the lease likely would have been in the $30,000 range."

"“I personally couldn’t come up with a justification to pay a landlord for a lease for a purpose that wasn’t a public purpose,” Weinaug said."

I think that Mr. Weinaug made a very valid point!

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