photo by: Lauren Fox/Journal-World File Photo
New efforts to fight COVID-19 appear likely to add more manufacturing jobs at a Lawrence-based plant.
A local economic development official confirmed Tuesday that Plastikon Industries has won a key job that is expected to produce 50 new positions at its high-tech plant in the East Hills Business Park. The plant produces medical vials, and now it is adding a new production line that will fill and cap some medical containers as well. In other words, the plant will have the ability to not only build the packaging, but also put the product in the packaging or container, as well.
What those products will be, I don’t know, but Steve Kelly, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence chamber of commerce, said all indications are that it has something to do with the COVID-19 effort. That’s because the state of Kansas is providing economic development assistance from a pool of federal money that has been set aside for projects that increase the supply of key COVID-related products.
The City of Lawrence is not having to provide any incentives for the project to come to Lawrence. Plastikon will use existing space that it built several years ago, as part of a 50,000-square-foot expansion that did receive city incentives.
The projected 50 new jobs would be in addition to 40 new jobs that the company confirmed it was creating in September. That was for a separate project that created new capacity for the plant to build test tubes that would be used as part of the COVID-19 testing process.
An attempt to reach an official with Plastikon wasn’t successful on Tuesday afternoon.
The latest news, however, continues a growth trend for the company’s Lawrence plant at 3780 Greenway Circle. We reported in 2017 that the plant had about 20 employees. Now, based on past figures given to economic development officials, the plant would have about 160 employees, upon completion of the latest project.
“They just keep chugging along,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said he thinks each new project makes the plant more attractive in the overall Plastikon portfolio. That means it might start winning other projects that the California-based company has to offer. Kelly said he knows the Lawrence plant was competing directly with Plastikon’s California facility for the new cap-and-fill project. Once the plant successfully starts filling and capping products, that adds to its future possibilities, he said.
“Once you go through the lengthy certification process to do that type of work, you can then put it on your shingle, so to speak, that you have that type of capability. Every time they add one of these credentials, that puts them in a position to be active on other contracts and other bids.”
Kelly noted that the company did negotiate to receive additional land in the East Hills Business Park when it completed its last building expansion several years ago. He thinks the company is on pace for another expansion.
“I wouldn’t be surprised in the not-to-distant future that they may be looking for additional space,” Kelly said. “They do have the land to expand on.”
Officials with the Kansas Department of Commerce also seem to like the company. The state provided incentives to Plastikon for its project in September, and it also did so for this most recent project. I haven’t yet seen details about that state incentives package, but I’ll check with the Commerce Department about it and pass along any relevant details.
Kelly also had new information on a pair of other large projects slated for Venture Park, which is adjacent to the East Hills Business Park on the eastern edge of Lawrence. Kelly said earthmoving work has started on the site for a new U.S. Engineering Metalworks building. As we’ve reported, the Kansas City-based company has chosen Lawrence for a new facility that will manufacture specialty duct work and other components for the HVAC and building industries.
The project was announced in late 2019, but work had not begun on the site by the time the pandemic struck in early 2020. That had led some locals to worry about the prospects of the project, but economic development officials expressed confidence that it ultimately would resume. Kelly said plans call for the building to be about 150,000 square feet, and for employee totals to be at about 80 positions in the near term. The company previously had said the positions — largely skilled welders, metal workers and other technical manufacturing positions — will have average wages of about $72,000 a year.
Kelly also provided a timeline for Pretzels Inc. to open its plant at Venture Park. Site work on that 150,000-square-foot facility has been underway for weeks. It is highly visible along 23rd Street just northeast of the O’Connell Road intersection. Kelly said he believes the company will start moving in equipment by the summer of this year, with hopes of starting production at the plant by the beginning of next year.
As its name implies, the Indiana-based company will produce pretzels and other snack foods at the plant. The Lawrence plant is expected to have about 280 jobs over the next five years. The company, as it applied for an received about a $4.4 million incentives package from the city, estimated the jobs would pay an average wage of about $43,000 a year. On Tuesday, Kelly estimated the company will be making about a $90 million investment in Lawrence.