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Murrel BlandMurrel Bland
It was about 30 years ago when I wrote an editorial about the need for more new industrial parks in Wyandotte County. It was then that Sealright, a manufacturer that had a plant in the Fairfax Industrial Area for more than 60 years, announced that it was moving to a new industrial park in DeSoto. And DeSoto gave the new plant a10-year tax abatement. I commented that it was questionable public policy to give tax abatement to a business that we already had. I am not certain that tax abatement would have saved the Sealright plant.
The Sealright move cost Wyandotte County 350 good-paying jobs. The company made packaging for food and dairy products and with annual gross sales of more than $268 million in 1992. It also had plants in California, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.
A few months before the Sealright move, private and public leaders in Wyandotte County formed Wyandotte Development Inc. (That organization is now the Wyandotte County Development Council.)
The forming of WDI was too late to save Sealright. However, WDI and its successor, WDEC, have not only saved existing industries, but helped develop industrial parks to attract new companies. Among those is the industrial park in Edwardsville, which is about 80 percent occupied.
The biggest “save” during the past 30 years was the General Motors plant in Fairfax that continues to expand. However, Fairfax, which is about 90 years old, is not without its needs. Buildings there have low ceilings—something that was a necessity to accommodate aircraft that was taking off and landing at the former Fairfax Airport.
The Union Pacific Railroad and a Kansas City, Kan., lawyer, Guy Stanley, developed the industrial area. It was patterned after a similar industrial area in Fairfax County, Va. Despite its age, Fairfax remains in a good location with quick access to rail, Interstate highways, river barges and airports.
Today industry is looking for bright, new industrial parks where infrastructure is in place and a company can move in quickly. In the mid-1990s, there was serious discussion of a possible industrial park near I-435 and State Avenue. However, the retail development of Village West killed that project.
There have been successful industrial parks in the Armourdale and Turner areas. And there have been several discussions about possible industrial development along the Missouri River in the Wolcott and Nearman bottoms. The problem with the latter two locations is that they are in flood plains; it would take substantial developments to justify very expensive levies there.
There also has been discussion about additional “infill” industrial development along K-32 in the Muncie, Edwardsville and Bonner Springs communities.
An improving economy and successful retail and industrial development along the I-435 corridor have boosted developer interest in Wyandotte County. Several sites have come about in the past 30 years. But others will be needed if this growth is to continue.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.