The Economic Development Corp. of Lawrence and Douglas County has made a $475,000 donation for the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Center.
Marvin Hunt, Peaslee Technical Center director, said the funding would allow the center to make air-conditioning repairs at the center and to help pay down the mortgage on the building.
The donation represented a “sea change” in the EDC’s approach to economic development, said Hugh Carter, vice president of external affairs with the Lawrence chamber of commerce. The EDC, an economic development organization with a management arrangement with The Chamber, traditionally made money available as an investment to companies looking to expand or relocate in Lawrence or the county with the expectation that money would be repaid as the companies prospered.
“The EDC board gave a lot of thought to this,” Carter said. “This is not an investment with a capital return. The board felt there was no higher use of the funds than an investment in workforce development.”
The EDC grant was but one of the efforts underway on behalf of Peaslee. Carter said The Chamber has earmarked $5,000 to hire a grant writer to explore federal, state and private opportunities for the center. Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary Antonio J. Soave toured the technical center Monday and suggested a number of grants that could be available for the technical center, he said.
“We have a partnership of The Chamber, the EDC, the city, county, school district, business community and local industry,” he said. ‘We’d like to add the state to that partnership.”
In addition, the chamber’s five-year capital campaign announced earlier this month is “well on its way” to realizing it goal of $1.8 million, of which 20 percent will benefit Peaslee, Carter said.
Meanwhile, progress continues in the effort to find a tenant to lease the space in Peaslee that racing wheel manufacturer HiPer Technology occupied until it relocated when Weld Wheels purchased the company earlier this year.
Talks are ongoing with an undisclosed East Coast company, whose representatives toured Peaslee in August. Hunt said those negotiations were now in a critical stage, but it was too early to predict whether they would result in a lease. A new tenant would not only help Peaslee’s bottom line through lease payments but would also help with utility and maintenance expenses.
Peaslee currently offers classes through Neosho County and Johnson County community colleges and Flint Hills Technical College of Emporia in carpentry, construction, HVAC, manufacturing and welding, among other subjects, as well as noncredit courses in problem solving, workplace conflict resolution, financial literacy and career-building. It was announced this month that an automotive technology program will be offered next fall through a partnership of Peaslee, JCCC, The Chamber and six local automobile dealers who have pledged to contribute $10,000 a year for five years to fund the program.
The new program is expected to further boost enrollment at the tech center, which increased from 150 when it opened in August 2015 to more than 300 this year.