Clay manufacturing plant to locate in Lawrence; local businesses owned by women propel city to high ranking

I’ve long thought Lawrence was the clay capital of Kansas. After all, nearly all my teammates in pickup basketball have clay feet on defense. But soon, Lawrence may come by the designation more naturally. A Lawrence firm is undertaking a major expansion to add a clay manufacturing plant.

Lawrence-based Good Earth Clays has filed plans to build a 10,000 square-foot addition to its facility at 1831 East 1450 Road in North Lawrence. Good Earth for years has used the Lawrence facility to distribute 50-pound boxes of unmolded clay to artists and other users, in addition to selling kilns, potters wheels and other tools used in the ceramics business. But Good Earth has not actually manufactured the clay that it sells.

Cindy Bracker, vice president of Good Earth Clays, said that soon will change. The company has reached a deal to purchase Marion-based Flint Hills Clay Works, which has been a longtime clay supplier for Good Earth.

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The new addition, which will nearly double the size of Good Earth’s facility, will house mixing equipment, filters and a device called a “pug mill,” which actually extrudes the 25-pound segments of raw clay, which are called pugs.

The mixing plant is expected to employ two people initially, but may grow as the company looks for new markets to sell its clay.

“We haven’t figured out how to do this right without diving in head first, so that is what we’re doing,” Bracker said.

As for the actual work that will go on in the facility, Bracker explained that the business has dry, powdered clay shipped to it from mines throughout the country. Depending on the location of the mine and the soil type surrounding it, each type of powdered clay has different properties and characteristics. Each also has its own recipe, so to speak, about how much water filtering and pressing is needed.

“It is kind of like making a cake,” Bracker said. (I was unclear on whether that means the fire department frequently visits the facility, or perhaps that is unique to my cake-baking process.)

Bracker said Good Earth decided to buy the Marion-based clay producer because the owners of the Marion company were going to retire. Good Earth didn’t want to lose its main clay supplier and didn’t want to go through the uncertainty of finding a new one. Plus, there was another reason Good Earth went through with the deal: because mom said so. Bracker’s mother, Anne Bracker, is a founder of Good Earth.

“My mom really wants to mix clay,” Bracker said. “She has always wanted to have an all encompassing ceramics business, and now we will.”

Good Earth hopes to have the production facility operational in early 2017, Bracker said.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Good Earth is probably a good example of the type of business that has helped Lawrence rank highly in a new list. Lawrence has been named the 22nd best city in the country for female entrepreneurs.

The ranking comes from GoodCall, an online consumer research company. The firm looked at data for about 400 metropolitan areas, and ranked each based on factors such as the number of businesses owned by women in a community, the breakdown of small businesses versus large businesses in a community, growth of the local economy, education rates for women and a few other factors.

Victoria, Texas, was the top-ranked community. At No. 22, Lawrence was the top-ranked community in Kansas and the second highest ranked in the region. Greeley, Colo., checked in at No. 5. No other Kansas communities made the top 100. Others from the region include:

• Fort Collins, Colo.: No. 30

• Boulder, Colo.: No. 33

• Iowa City: No. 50

• Oklahoma City: No. 79

• Des Moines, Iowa: No. 86

The report found that about 35 percent of all businesses in Lawrence are owned by women. That ranked fairly high. The community with the largest percentage of female-owned businesses was Danville, Ill., closely followed by Memphis, Tenn., which both had about 45 percent of businesses owned by women.