The Industry of Innovation
Leavenworth County Development Corporation
The Leavenworth County Development Corporation (LCDC) is a 501 (c) 6 non-profit focused on the economic development of four communities in Leavenworth County including Leavenworth, Lansing, Basehor and Tonganoxie. It works to recruit new businesses and retain and expand existing businesses. Steve Jack, executive director of the LCDC, believes that Leavenworth County is uniquely situated to attract business to the area.
Leavenworth is on the west bank of the Missouri River, a less than forty-minute drive north of Kansas City, Missouri. It is the largest city and the seat of Leavenworth County. It was founded in 1854 and is often called ‘The First City of Kansas,’ being the first established city in the state. It developed south of Fort Leavenworth, a military fort built in 1827. Being less than an hour’s drive from the Kansas City Metropolitan area gives Leavenworth all the charm of rural living with access to all the amenities of the big city.
Lansing has experienced steady growth for the past 50 years, increasing its population by approximately 2,000 residents every 10 years. In 1960, the city’s population was 1,261. Nearly 12,000 people and a variety of businesses now call Lansing home. Strong schools and a number of new subdivisions are its calling card.
Basehor is one of the fastest-growing communities in Kansas. Basehor’s southern location in the County provides convenient access to the Kansas City metro area, yet it still maintains its friendly, small town atmosphere. Basehor was named the wealthiest small town in Kansas in June, 2016, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of communities with less than 25,000 residents.
Tonganoxie is a city of more than 5,000 residents in southern Leavenworth County. Tonganoxie is only 15 minutes from Lawrence and the University of Kansas and is easily accessed via I-70. It offers families and businesses the best of both worlds, small town charm and progressive leadership.
LCDC works hard to encourage the growth of industries that are well-established in the region, but it is also quite keen to achieve the advantages of a diverse economy. Reflecting this principle is an impressive list of employers in industries such as manufacturing, health, education and government agencies including prison and military facilities. Its sister organization, the Leavenworth County Port Authority (LCPA), is a quasi-governmental operation with the primary function of developing economic opportunities through the planning, construction and marketing of industrial property.
Cereal Ingredients is a privately held, employee-owned specialty ingredients manufacturer established in 1990 and one of several innovative businesses in Leavenworth County. The company makes ingredients for some of the largest food processors in the world. It was looking for a 40,000-square-foot facility and became interested in a site within an industrial park owned by the Port Authority. The location was exactly what it was looking for, and after some negotiation, LCDC and LCPA worked out a ‘land-for-jobs’ agreement. If the company could create 55 in five years, LCPA would forgive the mortgage.
This deal succeeded for everyone, and soon the operation doubled to 80,000 square feet. Last year, the company entered another land-for-jobs deal and doubled the operation again to 160,000 square feet. From the initial promise to create 55 jobs, it now has 180 employees. It came to Leavenworth with a few patents and a couple dozen employees and has grown into something much bigger.
Great Western is the oldest continually operating manufacturing firm in the state of Kansas. When it opened in 1858, its primary function was the manufacture of wood-burning stoves and steam engines and the repair of parts for steamboats. Today, Great Western specializes in sifting and screening equipment for cereal and grain processors, bakeries, pet food, plastic and chemical industries.
It is “another example of a company that had to be nimble and innovative to be long sustaining,” says Jack, “and we’re very proud to have them.” The LCDC recently worked closely with Great Western through its recent expansion, helping it with incentives offered by the state of Kansas.
Peruvian Connection is an international clothing company founded in 1976 by mother and daughter team Biddy and Annie Hurlbut. Daughter Annie traveled to Peru when she was nineteen, and while wandering the craft markets found herself drawn to the beautiful hand-crafted alpaca mantas and ponchos made by local artisans. She bought one for her mother, who showed it to a potential buyer and immediately closed on a 500-piece order. Forty years later, the company has grown to seven locations, a very successful web store and 100 employees who work just outside of Tonganoxie.
These are only some of the great success stories that have come out of Leavenworth County. “These businesses are innovative and really reflect our culture in Leavenworth,” says Jack.
The central location of Leavenworth County and its proximity to Kansas City’s highway access lends greatly to its transportation capacity. Leavenworth County is just minutes away from six interstates including I-70, I-35, I-435, I-29, I-635 and I-470. These highways connect Leavenworth quickly and easily to the rest of the nation. This advantage has led LCDC into looking toward distribution and light manufacturing as industries to bring into the region.
Another targeted industry is animal health product manufacturing. Between the University of Missouri Veterinary school and the Kansas State Veterinary school, centered in Kansas City, is a 250-mile corridor wherein 35 percent of all pet health products in the world are developed. “We don’t have as many animal health companies as we’d like to yet, but we have tons of potential,” says Jack.
Food processing and food distribution is an industry which is a strength of Leavenworth County’s. As well as Cereal Ingredients, Leavenworth is also home to National Cold Storage, a refrigerated storage facility located in an underground limestone mine, the Loring Underground.
McDonald Marketing Service has operated as a frozen fruits, vegetable and dinner products distribution company for Birds Eye and Michael Angelo’s since 1985. The company recently expanded into the packaging sector of the industry under the Heart & Soul brand in the Loring Underground. The company packages a variety of frozen vegetables and quiches.
Given the county’s central location in the heart of the nation, access to major transport routes and the highly-versatile workforce of Leavenworth County, food, animal health products, light manufacturing and distribution are all industries LCDC plans to target in development efforts going forward.
The population of Leavenworth County has grown over the years but the county’s labor force does not solely come from within the county. According to a 2015 study by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, the workforce is drawn from a ‘labor basin’ which includes seven counties in Kansas and Missouri. While the population of Leavenworth County is 79,315, the population of the Leavenworth County labor basin is 384,902 drawing from communities on both sides of the state line.
A significant majority—84.8 percent—have at least some college and nearly all—98.8 percent—have at least a high school diploma. For people in the labor pool interested in changing their employment situation, an estimated 9.7 percent work in general labor jobs such as cleaning, construction, delivery, manufacturing and maintenance; an estimated 11.9 percent work in high-skilled jobs as mechanics, welders, computer technicians and crew managers; approximately 39.1 percent work in the service sector as customer service, clerical workers, retail workers, office managers, nurses and teachers; and 19 percent work in white-collar positions such as executives, doctors and attorneys.
“We have people who drive from Kansas City and people who drive to Kansas City from Leavenworth County,” says Jack. “We’re 20 minutes from KCI (Kansas City International) Airport, 20 minutes from the Royals and the Chiefs, 20 minutes from the University of Kansas. Many people who work in Kansas City come back each night to homes in Leavenworth County. So we’re not just next to the Kansas City MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), we’re a part of it.”
The largest employer in Leavenworth County is Fort Leavenworth, often called the ‘Intellectual Center of the Army.’ It is home to the US Army Combined Arms Center, the Command and General Staff College and other US Army facilities. The Fort employs 8,500 personnel and is home to 5,000 residents. All US Army officers come through Fort Leavenworth at some point in their career, and many international officers are trained there as well.
There is a highly-skilled workforce associated with the Fort including those with PhDs and master’s degrees who perform highly-sophisticated computer war simulation development and training. There are also defense contractors in the area including Northup Grumman, Cubic Applications, Booz Allen Hamilton, and General Dynamics. Army doctrine is developed there in addition to other mission critical efforts and the county is very proud of the work they do.
For businesses thinking of opening in Leavenworth County, there are incentives and programs in place to minimize expenses. The individual communities all have property tax abatement incentives that can allow a business abate up to 100 percent of the property taxes for up to ten years. The PEAK (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) program allows companies who pay at or above the county’s median wage to retain 95 percent of the payroll withholding tax for up to ten years.
The HPIP (High-Performance Incentive Program) allows companies that are paying above-average wages and are investing in capital and employee training to get a 10 percent tax credit on those capital expenditures. If a company invests $1 million dollars into capital equipment and training its employees, it could be eligible for a $95,000 tax credit through HPIP. Additionally, the Port Authority offers land related incentives through the industrial parks.
The Port Authority developed two industrial parks twenty years ago. Those parks are rapidly running out of vacancies, so substantial investment is being made into the development of two new parks in Leavenworth and Tonganoxie. By 2018, the LCDC and LCPA will have another 200 acres to locate new industry.
With access to metropolitan markets, access to a labor force of more than 380,000 workers and a rural pace of life so close to Kansas City, Leavenworth County is perfectly situated to attract businesses in many varied industries and the employees and executives who run them.