After delays, construction set to begin on manufacturing plant that will bring 140 jobs to Lawrence

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

U.S. Engineering has plans to build a manufacturing plant in Lawrence's VenturePark.

After several months of delays, the construction of a new manufacturing plant in Lawrence VenturePark that will eventually bring 140 jobs to the city is moving forward.

In fall 2019, the Lawrence City Commission approved tax breaks and other incentives for Kansas City, Mo.-based U.S. Engineering Metalworks to construct a $15 million plant in the city-owned business park, but the project was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, following some modifications to the plans, city officials say administrative and other approvals have taken place and the project is cleared to begin construction.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard told the Journal-World this week that the transfer of land in Lawrence VenturePark from the city to U.S. Engineering had recently been completed and that required permits from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had also been granted. Stoddard said the company would begin the project soon if it hadn’t already done so.

As the Journal-World previously reported, projections call for the plant to provide 80 jobs in its first year of operation, another 10 jobs the second year, another 20 in the third year and another 30 in the fourth year, for a total of 140 jobs. The average wage at the Lawrence plant is estimated to be $72,800, plus other benefits.

Initially, company leaders said they expected to open the plant at the very end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. However, in March, a letter from the company to the city said that U.S. Engineering planned to place the Lawrence project and its other capital projects on at least a three-month hold because of safety, economic and other concerns related to the pandemic.

The city has approved a $3.2 million incentives package for the project, which includes the provision of free land in VenturePark as part of the city’s Catalyst Program, a fast-track incentives program meant to spur development in the park. Companies must take responsibility for special assessments on the land as part of the agreement. In addition to the free land, the incentives package includes a 10-year property tax abatement and sales tax exemptions for construction materials.

Some changes have been made to the incentives agreement since it was approved in 2019. In May 2020, the commission voted to expand the package by providing an additional free lot for the project, in part because the company planned to build a significantly bigger plant — a 154,000-square-foot facility instead of a 100,000-square-foot one. But in December 2020, because of some issues with the lots, the city amended the agreement to include just one lot and a portion of another lot.

Specifically, a memo to the commission states that as the project proceeded through further design and review, it was determined that not all of the allotted land would be needed to accommodate the first phase of the project or any future expansion. In addition, a portion of the allotted land contains a large rubble pile, which the city estimated would cost about $500,000 to remove. The city agreed to retain ownership of the portion of the lot with the rubble pile and to ultimately transfer about 27 acres to the company instead of the roughly 42 acres agreed on in May.

A representative of the company did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s inquiry on Thursday regarding when construction was expected to be finished.

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