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Large conglomerate purchases Kinedyne and its Lawrence plant in East Hills

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This is the time of year where I'm in the market for a good, heavy-duty cargo strap. After all, I have to do something to secure my full plate of turkey and stuffing as I move it from the kitchen to the couch.

Perhaps you didn't know it, but the cargo strap business injects millions of dollars into the Lawrence economy. (No, I don't eat that much turkey.) Kinedyne is one of the leading manufacturers of cargo straps and other such equipment used by the trucking industry, and its main U.S. operations facility is in the East Hills Business Park.

It may be a facility worth keeping an eye on in the future. It has taken me awhile to sort it all out, but Kinedyne and its Lawrence plant have been purchased by a large Illinois-based conglomerate that also owns one of Kinedyne's chief competitors.

The Heico Companies — a conglomerate that owns about 35 companies that produce about $2 billion in revenues — has purchased the Kinedyne corporation and its Lawrence real estate and production plant. The deal closed in mid-August, but has been a bit under the radar screen.

The Heico Companies also owns Ancra International. If you have spent a lot of time on the back of a flatbed trailer, you perhaps know that Ancra and Kinedyne have been pretty stiff competitors when it comes to cargo straps, come-alongs, webbing and other such products that make a trucker's heart go pitter-patter.

The deal keeps both Kinedyne and Ancra as separate companies, but they now operate as part of the same division within The Heico Companies, according to Heico's Web site.

At the moment, it is tough for me to say what the impact may be on Kinedyne and its Lawrence operations. I've chatted with a couple of Kinedyne officials who indicated there haven't been major changes at the Lawrence plant, and that they generally are optimistic that the new ownership will be a positive development for the Lawrence operations.

But I'm still waiting to get an official statement from Kinedyne officials. Amy Bellerive, human resources manager for Kinedyne's North America operations, told me the Lawrence facility has about 60 employees currently.

That is down from previous years. Back in 2009, we reported that more than 100 people worked at the Lawrence facility, which is located at 3701 Greenway Circle. But I've been told the reduction in Kinedyne's workforce came well before the deal with Heico. Instead, sales have slowed as the economy has struggled, and Kinedyne likely has been affected by cutbacks in government spending because military contracts have been a big part of the company's business in the past.

Kinedyne has been a longtime employer in the community. Kinedyne has been around since 1968, but it didn't enter the Lawrence market until 1989, when it purchased the cargo control division of Lawrence-based Aeroquip, according to Kinedyne's website. A year later, Kinedyne broke ground on a new 47,000 square foot facility in East Hills, giving the fledgling business park a big boost. The plant became the main operational facility for Kinedyne, which has kept its headquarters in New Jersey.

Today, the plant is one of four U.S. facilities for Kinedyne, which also has locations in Canada, Mexico and China. In addition to manufacturing and assembly work, the Lawrence plant also houses the customer service division for Kinedyne and also does quite a bit of quality control testing for the company, Bellerive said.

So, we'll have to wait and see what new ownership has in store for Kinedyne and its Lawrence operations. In the meantime, I need to find a local fork lift manufacturer. (Bonus points if you know the name of the Douglas County-based forklift manufacturer.) After all, I need to figure out how I'm going to move my dessert plate this Thanksgiving.

In other news and notes from around town:

• The city's public works department is competing for about $125,000 to build new sidewalks in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in Lawrence. The department is seeking approval from Lawrence city commissioners tonight to apply for Community Development Block Grant money to fill in gaps in the city's sidewalk network. The department over the last several years has received about $500,000 in CDBG money to build about four miles of sidewalks in several neighborhoods east of Iowa Street. Here's a map that shows where that work has taken place.

Sidewalks always have the potential to become an interesting issue at City Hall. Residents have become more vocal in recent years about making Lawrence more pedestrian friendly, and the city has created projects like this to fill in gaps in the sidewalk network.

But a frequent topic also is the condition of existing sidewalks in the city. State law makes sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, not the city. It is not cheap to pour new concrete for a sidewalk, and thus there are a quite a few property owners who have let their sidewalks fall into a poor state of repair.

There is now a group of residents trying to draw awareness to that issue. The group is called the Pedestrian Coalition, and its leaders recently gave a presentation to commissioners. Commissioners frequently talk about how they want to improve the condition of existing sidewalks, and the city tries to take some enforcement action against property owners who have particularly bad sidewalks.

The other idea that comes up is that there is nothing that would stop the city from taking over the maintenance responsibilities of sidewalks. Well, nothing but money. Back in 2009, City Manager David Corliss proposed creating a new sidewalk maintenance fee that would be charged to property owners who have a public sidewalk traveling through their property. The proposal called for a half-cent to full cent for every linear foot of public sidewalk on their property; so, for many typical residential lots about 25 cents to 50 cents per month. Back then, the fee was anticipated to raise about $200,000 to $400,000 a year that the city could use to begin repairing sidewalks.

I can't say that the idea of a sidewalk maintenance fee will come back up again, but this new Pedestrian Coalition has quite a few experienced neighborhood association leaders who know how to push issues at City Hall. So, given that, sidewalks may be a topic that will get more discussion from commissioners in the future.

As for tonight, commissioners are expected to approve the request from the public works department. At that point, the city advisory board that makes recommendations on how to spend the city's Community Development Block Grant money will consider the sidewalk request against all the other funding requests it receives. The board will make its recommendations early next year.

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