Editorial: New manufacturer is a big win for Lawrence and maybe even a bigger one for VenturePark
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
Local city, county and economic development leaders deserve congratulations for their efforts to land a major new employer in our community.
Lawrence city commissioners recently gave preliminary approval for an incentives package that clears the way for Kansas City, Mo.-based U.S. Engineering Metalworks to build a 100,000-square foot manufacturing facility in Lawrence VenturePark.
The plant is expected to employ about 80 people and will do custom manufacturing for a variety of complex heating, cooling and plumbing system projects that will be made in the plant but shipped to larger building projects across the region.
The company has all the hallmarks of the type of firm that Lawrence should be eager to attract. The company has had operations in Kansas City since 1893. That is a testament to it service, reliability and customer satisfaction. There is every reason to believe that the company will be a valuable part of the Lawrence business community for a long time.
There is also ample reason to believe that the company cares greatly about the quality of its employees. Currently, there are about 70,000 reasons. The company has acknowledged that the average wage for positions at the Lawrence plant would be $72,800 a year. All of the manufacturing positions are union jobs, another sign that the company takes employee pay and benefit issues seriously.
The company will qualify for a 50% to 70% tax abatement for 10 years on its estimated $15 million project. It also will receive about 25 acres of land in VenturePark. It will receive the incentives as part of the city’s Catalyst Program, which is an incentives process designed to speed up the time of approval of such incentives requests.
U.S. Engineering Metalworks’ proposal did reveal a couple of flaws in that process. The city doesn’t require companies applying for incentives through the Catalyst Program to provide an estimate for the project’s job total or wage levels. That created a situation where members of the public were left in the dark for awhile about the pay ranges and quality of the jobs. Ultimately, it was discovered that city commissioners did have that information but the general public did not. That is not a good look. None of this is the fault of U.S. Engineering Metalworks, and thankfully it did not turn into an argument that created collateral damage for the company.
It also is not an issue that needs to be dwelled upon. It is easily fixed. The city simply should add two questions to its Catalyst Program application: What is a good faith estimate of the number of jobs the project will create, and what is a good faith estimate of the median wage or salary that will be paid at the project? Those two questions will provide everybody the common sense information needed when a project is asking for a public tax break. It just seems odd to believe that city commissioners wouldn’t want that information when deciding whether to offer a public tax break, and if city commissioners get that information, then we are all entitled to it.
But don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Add the two questions and move on. And importantly, find more companies like U.S. Engineering Metalworks to come to Lawrence. This project may end up being a landmark one for the community. The company will be the first to locate in VenturePark. The park opened in October 2014; it’s in need of a success story.
U.S. Engineering Metalworks is a great addition to the park if for no other reason than the high-quality jobs it will bring to this community. But the company has a chance to be remembered for even more. In its day-to-day business, the company builds critical components that allow larger projects to come to life. That may be the role U.S. Engineering Metalworks plays for VenturePark. There is reason to believe that having such a company as successful as U.S. Engineering Metalworks locate in the park will make it easier for future companies to believe in the park, the city and the community’s workforce.
Here’s hoping that the most successful thing U.S. Engineering Metalworks builds in Lawrence is great momentum for VenturePark to become the thriving business park that we need it to be.