Eudora lands deal for new railway manufacturer; 23rd Street fun center closes

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Russ Taylor, president of Modern Manufacturing, speaks at a Sept. 17, 2020, event in Eudora to announce the company's plans to open a new production facility in the eastern Douglas County community.

Story updated at 4:10 p.m. Thursday

We reported in June that a Canadian manufacturer was eyeing Eudora to open a new plant to serve the railroad industry and add about 40 new jobs to the eastern Douglas County community in the process.

Well, that deal has now been finalized. Modern Manufacturing announced Thursday that it had indeed selected Eudora for the project. Leaders from the city of Eudora, Douglas County and the Kansas Department of Commerce all gathered in downtown Eudora to celebrate the announcement, and the ceremony even included one unexpected visitor — a noisy freight train rumbling through the north edge of downtown, interrupting the speech of Modern Manufacturing’s president.

“Ah, there is the sound of money,” Russ Taylor, president of Modern Manufacturing, told the crowd. “That’s great.”

Indeed, Eudora leaders are hopeful trains end up equating to big money for the town of about 6,300 people just east of Lawrence.

Modern Manufacturing makes a variety of products for the railway industry. Those include the light systems used at crossings, while a big product is the steel “bungalows” that are located alongside the tracks to house electronic equipment for railways.

The company finalized a deal to purchase an approximately 50,000-square-foot vacant industrial building in the Intech Business Park, which is on the eastern edge of Eudora along Kansas Highway 10.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Modern Manufacturing has purchased the former Sac’s distribution center at 1202 Cardinal Drive to house a new production facility in Eudora. The company, which is a supplier for the railroad industry, also purchased about 18 acres as part of the deal for possible expansion in the future.

The City of Eudora in June approved a 50%, 10-year tax abatement for the company in anticipation that Eudora would ultimately be selected for the project.

The Kansas Department of Commerce also provided economic development incentives to land the project, Commerce Secretary David Toland said. He said the assistance included workforce training money, and use of a tax incentive program that provides a tax rebate based on the number of jobs the company ultimately creates. Toland said the deal was not yet finalized, and he wasn’t able to provide an estimate of dollar value of the incentive program on Thursday, but he said an amount would be released upon completion of the agreement.

Taylor said the company hopes to being production in the next several months. Company officials said the Eudora plant will employ engineers, designers, welders, and operators for several types of high-tech equipment, such as laser cutters, computerized routers an other pieces of production machinery.

Documents submitted as part of the tax abatement application stated that most of the plant’s technical workers would make about $50,000 a year.

On Thursday, company leaders said they focused on the Interstate 35 corridor for the location of their first U.S.-based manufacturing facility. When officials spotted the vacant building for sale in Eudora, Taylor remembered that he had bought a dog for his then 5-year-old son at a rural Eudora breeder when he lived in Kansas City more than 20 years ago. Once they took a look at the building and met with city officials, they determined Eudora was a leading candidate for the project, in part because of how quickly the city was willing to put together a deal.

“This is beautiful small town America,” Taylor said. “I keep hearing everyone here say how big of a deal this is for Eudora. Well, I can tell you, this is a big deal for us too.”

The company plans to invest about $8.3 million to purchase, renovate and equip the building, according to documents filed with the city. The company’s purchase also included about 18 acres in the industrial park, which could allow for future expansion. Taylor said the company hopes to have at least 80 jobs at the Eudora plant within five years.

Eudora officials said they were happy to provide the incentive package for a company that they believe will have a long future in the city.

“We talk a lot about 20- or 30-year plans, and I see this fitting right in with what we have planned for the future,” Eudora Mayor Tim Reazin said.

Modern Manufacturing — which currently has all of its production based in Canada — is a subsidiary of Stacy and Witbeck, a U.S.-based construction company that focuses on railway projects. That firm has revenues of more than $500 million a year, Gerry McKenna, chairman of the board for Modern Manufacturing, told the crowd.

“We are not going anywhere,” McKenna said. “We are really looking forward to this venture.”

State officials also were touting the project. Toland said the Kansas Department of Commerce has now assisted with about $1.4 billion in economic development projects in 2020, up from about $1.3 billion for all of 2019. He said while the pandemic has hurt parts of the Kansas economy, he said companies in the logistics, e-commerce, distribution, and infrastructure industries have been looking to expand or relocate to a more centralized U.S. location.

“We have some good momentum right now,” Toland said.


In other news and notes from around town:

• The pandemic has been no fun, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that a business that deals in fun has had to close its doors.

Epic Fun Center in The Malls Shopping Center has permanently closed. Signs went up on the business a few days ago, and owner Terry Jacobsen confirmed the closing to me recently.

The business featured arcade games, laser tag and pizza, and it hosted children’s birthday parties and other such events.

At least, that’s the way the business worked before COVID-19. Jacobsen told me the business, 711 W. 23rd St., couldn’t overcome a downturn in business related to restrictions caused by the pandemic. The business opened in 2015.

“We loved serving the community,” Jacobsen told me via email. “We are grateful to the clients who came and had their birthday parties and fun times with us. We simply could not withstand the downturn in business brought about by COVID.”

• New business activity does appear to be underway just a few blocks east on 23rd Street. Construction crews are working at the old convenience store at the southwest corner of 23rd and Haskell. Crews are removing the gas pumps from the location.

There is certainly a rumor that a cake business is going into part of the space, but I haven’t yet gotten that confirmed. In other words, that tip may end up being half-baked. I’ll let you know, though, when I hear more information.

Either way, it does appear that a long-vacant location on 23rd Street is going to get some new life.

photo by: Courtesy: August Rudisell

Construction crews in September, 2020 remove fuel tanks from an old convenience store location at 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue.


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