It’s bad news and good news for Lawrence — and a signal that nothing should be taken for granted in today’s times of extended economic uncertainty and swift technological changes.
The Hallmark Cards plant on McDonald Drive, gracing the entrance to Lawrence from the Kansas Turnpike, has been a cornerstone of the local economy for decades and for a great many years was cited as the largest nongovernment employer in the community.
The Kansas City-based company recently announced it is closing its manufacturing plant in Topeka, and shuffling operations to plants in Lawrence and Leavenworth. Production of ribbons, bows and stickers will move from Lawrence to Leavenworth, and the Lawrence facility ultimately will become the only Hallmark plant in the U.S. that produces the firm’s signature greeting cards. After all the moves are completed, employment at the Lawrence plant will remain at about 500 people, about the same number employed now. The overall workforce at the three Hallmark operations will shrink from about 1,300 people to 1,000.
Hallmark officials cited the decrease in sales of greeting cards as one principal reason for the consolidation. Much of that decrease probably can be attributed to the growth of free electronic communication via the Internet.
“The work we are doing now in three facilities can be accomplished in two. This decision allows us to streamline our operations and improve our cost structure so we can remain competitive in today’s marketplace,” Donald Hall Jr., Hallmark’s president and CEO, said.
Lawrence and Leavenworth were spared, Hallmark spokesmen said, because costs for insurance and transportation are less than at the Topeka facility. That’s something for community leaders to ponder as they consider property taxes and other issues that affect businesses.
The local facility has not only been a significant part of Lawrence’s business community for a long period of time, it also has provided community leadership within the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Lawrence should be relieved and pleased that Hallmark officials have expressed their confidence in the city by transferring operations to Lawrence. Every effort should be made not only to thank the company but to ensure that whenever that decision is reviewed, Hallmark is extremely pleased about the choice.
The Hallmark announcement should signal to Lawrence and Douglas County that there are no guarantees in today’s economy. It certainly behooves local leaders not to make assumptions that business will continue as usual because the unexpected impacts of technology, a global workforce, and national and international events and policies — on top of decisions made locally — all have a way, eventually, of influencing decisions that have local impacts. Instead of waiting for another shoe to drop, local leaders need to be extremely proactive in trying to improve job creation in the county, in recruiting businesses, in helping existing firms grow and improve their competitive positions — in an increasingly competitive, bottom-line-oriented environment.