An update on $4B Panasonic battery plant, including starting wages and talk of an expansion of Kansas Highway 10

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Shovels await a groundbreaking ceremony for Panasonic's new battery plant in De Soto on Nov. 2, 2022.

Many starting wages at the new $4 billion Panasonic battery plant in nearby De Soto will be in the $20 to $25 an hour range, a Lawrence consultant working with the company said.

That’s good information for potential job seekers to have, but also valuable information for area companies as well, Rob Richardson, the Panasonic opportunities manager for the Lawrence chamber, told a crowd on Tuesday. Many area companies indeed will be vying for the same workers that Panasonic hopes to employ.

“That is kind of what the competition is going to be,” Richardson said as he announced the $20 to $25 per hour wage range to the crowd.

Richardson said Panasonic expects to be hiring at least 200 employees per month in 2024. In many months that number may be higher, as the plant is expected to employ 4,000 people and begin production of electric vehicle batteries in the first quarter of 2025.

Richardson said his conversations with area businesses are revealing some worries about whether the giant battery manufacturer will create a labor shortage in the area. Richardson said the plant will make the labor market more competitive, but he ultimately thinks the Panasonic project will grow the overall workforce in the area.

“I think there is still a feeling that there is enough opportunities for everyone to go around,” Richardson said.

How it all plays out will depend, in part, on how many new residents come to the area to take Panasonic-related jobs versus how many existing residents simply move from their current job to one at Panasonic.

Doug Bach, the state of Kansas’ liaison to Panasonic, said the company expects to fill most of its jobs in De Soto from within the region. But that statement still leaves quite a bit of guesswork. How does Panasonic define “most,” and what does it consider to be the “region”? Bach said that was still unclear.

But the Lawrence crowd was told to expect the impacts related to the plant to unfold over time.

“We are not going to see 4,000 people all at once say, ‘we are going to come here, and we all are going to live in Eudora and De Soto,'” Bach said.

The Panasonic plant — which will make batteries for Tesla and other electric vehicle brands — has been billed as the largest private investment in the state’s history, and state leaders say the project will be “transformational” for the northeast Kansas region. The plant will be just east of the Douglas County line in Johnson County. It is only about a five-minute drive from Eudora and less than a 20-minute drive from parts of Lawrence.

The Panasonic plant itself, though, is only part of the equation. The project is expected to create an additional 4,000 jobs for the region at companies that serve as suppliers and vendors to Panasonic. Bach said details about those companies have been slow to emerge, as Panasonic has kept that information fairly guarded to this point.

Bach said the coming months will be important for communities like De Soto, Eudora and Lawrence as new information about the project emerges. Information about how many employees Panasonic expects to recruit from outside the region, plus details about how the plant’s suppliers plan to hire will be critical for those communities to know how much new housing and other services they may need to provide.

“Those are questions that a lot of the communities are asking today,” Bach said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Construction crews move earth on the site of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in De Soto on Nov. 2, 2022, as part of a project to construct a new Panasonic battery plant.

The Tuesday event, which was sponsored by the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, also provided several other Panasonic-related updates. They included:

• There is talk among state transportation leaders of expanding Kansas Highway 10 between Douglas County and the Kansas City metro area due to the Panasonic project. Bach said he’s meeting with Kansas Department of Transportation officials about Panasonic impacts, and he believes KDOT sees a need to add an additional lane to K-10 — making it a three-lane highway in each direction — to accommodate additional traffic related to the project.

“I do know they are looking at adding another lane,” Bach said. “I think that is under very serious consideration right now.”

He said such an expansion could occur from I-435 in Johnson County and go all the way into Douglas County, although no plans have been finalized. He said he suspected there would be conversation about that new lane — not the entire roadway — to be a toll lane. KDOT had floated such a toll idea for parts of K-10 — the South Lawrence Trafficway — on the western side of Lawrence when it expands to four lanes in future years. That idea, however, hasn’t advanced.

In the chamber of commerce crowd on Tuesday, there was some opposition to any idea that would make a portion of Kansas Highway 10 a toll road, especially given that Lawrence already relies on one major toll road — the Kansas Turnpike — for some of its transportation needs.

• Panasonic representatives also have said they hope the region will improve its transit and park-and-ride systems to better serve people traveling to the plant and the businesses surrounding it, Richardson said. A need for additional day care services also was expressed by representatives, he said.

• Earth-moving work has begun at the Panasonic plant site, which is just south and west of De Soto’s main interchange on K-10. The Lawrence crowd was told Panasonic has purchased 300 acres of property on the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, and has an option for 300 additional acres. There’s speculation that large-scale construction on the actual plant buildings will be underway by the middle of next year.


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