A new year doesn’t exactly mean a new refrain for economic development efforts in Lawrence and Douglas County.
On the street
I’m optimistic — I think everything I’ve read has said we’re on an uprise, at least a little bit.
“We need jobs,” said John Ross, who this week starts a one-year term as chairman of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an old record. It’s a well-played song. But the fact of the matter is: There are a lot of things in Lawrence that we like to do, but we need to be able to fund those.”
And that means bringing more employers to the area, providing more opportunities for existing businesses to grow and otherwise building a strong foundation that enables more people to find work — and therefore spur more home sales, more shopping, more services and all the other economic activities that generate sales taxes and property taxes and other revenues that make the community go.
There are several efforts under way to help the process along during the new year.
Bioscience and technology
The city of Lawrence, Douglas County and Kansas University continue to invest in and strengthen their partnership in turning KU research and translating on-campus expertise into real-life business operations and related endeavors.
The Bioscience and Technology Business Center, on KU’s West Campus, is on the brink of being filled with startup and spin-off technology enterprises, all looking to turn their proven ideas into successful — and job-creating — businesses. The $7.5 million center is owned by the Lawrence-Douglas County Biosciences Authority, itself a partnership of the city, county and KU.
The new year is set to begin with the center welcoming its eighth tenant: Assurant Employee Benefits, a division of insurance firm Assurant, a Fortune 500 company. The center’s other tenants:
• Argenta, a New Zealand-based animal health care company.
• BrightEHR, which provides electronic health records.
• Garmin Ltd., maker of GPS navigation systems.
• Gyrasol Technologies, which handles molecular diagnostics and drug testing.
• Propylon, a producer of legislative software systems.
• Sunlite Science and Technology, a producer of LED products.
• 360 Energy Engineers, an engineering and energy management firm.
There’s talk of adding to the center, which is the cornerstone of a system that already includes an expansion center — and home to CritiTech, a pharmaceutical company spun out of KU research — southwest of Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive; and a center at the KU Medical Center, in a building home to operations for OsteoGeneX, Aptakon, and Orbis Biosciences.
Such success at the KU locations could offer a path for others nearby to follow, Ross said.
“There are a number of things that KU is doing, looking long range,” Ross said. “They want to have a global presence. … The rest of Lawrence can take those as the lead, and the rest of us can pick up our game.”
Other communities also can offer vision for the future, he said.
Partnerships for the future
Manhattan, home to Kansas State University, is building off the momentum of landing the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a $650 million federal laboratory complex designed to help protect the national food supply and agricultural economy from both natural and terror threats.
The project is expected to provide an economic impact of $3.5 billion during its first two decades of operation, both from construction spending and then through 450 permanent jobs at the lab and through ongoing collaborations, spinoffs and related business opportunities.
Over in Topeka, economic development leaders are still celebrating a decision last year by Mars Chocolate North America to build a new $250 million manufacturing plant in the city, one expected to start with 200 full-time jobs when the place opens in 2013 and expand to at least 425 jobs in the future.
Helping draw the company was an incentives package pegged at $9.1 million, and one fueled by a half-cent countywide sales tax for economic-development purposes.
The two nearby success stories and a relatively recent third — the opening in Topeka of a production plant for a subsidiary of Bimbo Bakeries USA — offer the Lawrence area both something to shoot for and something to build upon, Ross said.
“I look over here at Lawrence and love everything about this city,” said Ross, who owns Laser Logic, which provides services for printers in northeast Kansas. “But how come we’re missing out on some of these things?
“We’re studying what Topeka did. What can we learn from them?”
The chamber, working as the economic-development organization for Lawrence and Douglas County, will continue to identify ways to build upon the area’s strengths and capitalize on the region’s growing influence in the manufacturing sector and its continued strong presence in bioscience and animal science industries.
The Lawrence chamber has entered into a joint marketing agreement with its counterparts in both Topeka and Manhattan so that all three organizations can work together to attract jobs and draw industries that can be beneficial for all three.
“It’s one for all, and all for one,” Ross said.
Building for future
And other areas aren’t alone in success stories. Berry Plastics is expanding northwest of Lawrence, building a $20 million, 600,000-square-foot warehouse and printing center near the Kansas Turnpike’s Lecompton interchange.
And as 2011 nears its end, another existing name in the Lawrence business scene, API Foils, announced it would be moving its U.S. corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Lawrence. API Foils came to Lawrence in 2003, when it opened a plant in the East Hills Business Park for making hot-stamping foils and other products used in printing, packaging and related industries.
“We are extremely pleased to renew and expand our commitment to Kansas and the Lawrence area,” said Brad Mueller, president and general manager for API Foils Americas. “The Kansas business-friendly environment is very refreshing. The skill and dedication of our workforce, the attractive cost profile, coupled with its central geographic location, make Lawrence an ideal location for our continued growth.”
That’s just what Ross and other economic-development leaders like to hear and hope to hear more often during the year and years to come.