RDA Happenings March 2015
Posted on March 1, 2015 – By Emporia RDA
Back in 1998, the RDA received a lead on a project that wanted to locate within 30 miles of Emporia, but not in Em-poria because, “our community was just too big.” Many decades in the economic development recruitment, getting accused of being too big is not generally heard of. None the less, prospect Tom Whalen, President of FAI, a wiring harness company from northern Indiana, wanted to locate a 25,000 sq. ft. operation within 30 miles of Emporia, but not in Emporia.
We looked at Americus, Hartford, and Olpe in Lyon County, then Chase County – Strong City and Cottonwood Falls, and Madison in Greenwood County. Tom also considered Coffey County and former Economic Developer Director Jon Hoelting identified the various communities in Coffey County. The top three locations were Madison, Burling-ton and Cottonwood Falls. Tom Whalen chose Cottonwood Falls as the location. The Chase County Economic De-velopment group agreed to construct the building for FAI Cottonwood Falls with a lease for 10 years. The communi-ty assumed the risk of a pure operating lease for the benefit of the full-time jobs and additional tax base.
FAI Cottonwood fabricated the wiring harness for the Case skid loader which was assembled in Wichita or Harvey County area. That was the vast majority of the business. About three years into the lease, Case skid loader ownership changed. The new management decided that the wiring harness business should be purchased from a Mexico vendor at a lower cost, but not higher quality. More on that later.
Tom Whalen informed the Chase County community leadership if he could not sell the FAI Cottonwood Falls busi-ness to a new owner, the business would close. As it turned out, FAI Cottonwood Falls was sold to Cable Tech that fabricated and assembled many cable products. Since 1998, the ownership of the business changed three times from FAI Cottonwood Falls with Tom Whalen, to Cable Tech with Bruce Breckenridge, to Valent Aero Structures with Charlie Newell and today is owned by LMI Aerospace, a publicly traded company. The company went from wiring harnesses primarily for the Case skid loader to sub assembly of components for Sprint Aerospace and other custom-ers. In late 1990’s there were 50 to 60 employees. Today there are 150 plus employees with more male than female workers with a significant payroll in Chase County. LMI Aerospace is the largest private employer in Chase County and contributes to the local tax base.
Many expanding manufacturers don’t realize that locating to rural Kansas is good for business. It is a testament to the “work ethic” and “productivity” of rural Kansas.
The Case skid loader business did return to Cable Tech a few years after it was moved to Mexico. The reason they returned was the quality and reliability of the wiring harness was much higher in Cottonwood Falls than Mexico. The savings on the wiring harness was less than the rework on the Case skid loader. It was a great project to be involved with and over time we may lose track of how successful job creation can be.
Mark your calendar for Wednesday, April 8th at 11:00 for a ribbon cutting on the west side of the Hostess Brands new warehouse building. The ribbon cutting will celebrate the addition of the second Auto-bake line. Since starting Host-ess Brands in April 2013, the Emporia bakery has become the flag-ship plant producing the majority of the Hostess Brands cake products and has over 500 employees. Parking will be west of the new warehouse building, enter from 15th Avenue, the second entrance west of the intersection of 15th Avenue and Industrial Road on the north side. At-tendees at the ribbon cutting are Governor Brownback, owners from Apollo Global Capital and Metropoulos & Com-pany, Hostess Brands Management and state and local elected officials.