n the year since Panasonic Energy broke ground on its $4 billion lithium-ion battery facility near Kansas City — the biggest economic development project in Kansas history — the state’s manufacturing sector has continued to build momentum. It’s growth atop a solid foundation. Kansas is home to more than 2,500 manufacturers employing an estimated 165,000 workers, more than 11% of the state’s workforce. Panasonic is joining a roster of global heavyweights that include General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Johnson Controls, Pfizer, Newell Rubbermaid and Honeywell that have chosen to locate manufacturing operations in Kansas.
In November, news of another major EV investment emerged. Negotiations that served to end the 46-day United Auto Workers strike produced an agreement by GM to pump nearly $400 million into its Fairfax Assembly & Stamping plant near Kansas City to retool it for an unnamed electric vehicle, widely reported to be a new Chevy Bolt. The plant, which currently produces the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4, ranks No. 4 on the Kansas City Business Journal’s list of area manufacturers, based on 2,229 local full-time-equivalent employees.
The UAW agreement also contained a pledge from Ford to invest $1 billion in its Kansas City Assembly plant in nearby Claycomo, Missouri. Both investments underscore the manner in which manufacturers that locate in the region tend to expand there. Another example: Johnson Controls announced plans in November to hire an additional 600 workers to produce heat pumps at its plant in Wichita.
Attraction and Retention
Recent repeat investors include manufacturers both domestic and foreign that make products ranging from foods and beverages, chemicals and plastics, heavy machinery and avionics to semiconductors and other electronics. Michelin, which operates two manufacturing locations in Emporia, recently announced plans to expand its other Kansas facility in Junction City, an hour west of Topeka. The $100 million investment illustrates the powerful synergy between the state’s signature manufacturing and agricultural sectors; it’s to support increased production of rubber tracks for heavy farm equipment. An estimated 200 new positions at Michelin’s Junction City plant will more than double the facility’s workforce by 2026, the company says.
“As a thriving hub for manufacturing and logistics, the Kansas City region is a highly attractive choice for innovative companies to locate their operations,” said Chris Gutierrez, president of KC SmartPort, which facilitates major industrial projects. “With the most central location in the U.S., available real estate options and access to more than 190,000 skilled industrial workers, KC continues to stake its claim in the attraction of industrial innovation,” Gutierrez said.
Developed by surrounding Johnson County in partnership with VanTrust Real Estate, New Century Commerce Center is one of many examples of how logistics providers support manufacturing across Kansas, leveraging the state’s position at the geographic heart of the United States. Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company, a top manufacturer of cast iron and plastic pipe and fittings, cited the state’s strategic location in announcing plans to build an $80 million manufacturing facility in the town of Maize in suburban Wichita.
“Maize is ideally located in the center of the country to help us better serve our customers. It is also a fast-growing, business-friendly community with an excellent workforce we can draw from to staff our new plant,” said Hooper Hardison, CEO of Charlotte Pipe and Foundry.
A State That Supports
Governor Laura Kelly, in an interview with Site Selection magazine’s Ron Starner, identified workforce development as one of her top three priorities related to business attraction and retention. Launched in 2023 under the direction of the Kansas Department of Commerce, the ALOFT (Aviation Learning Opportunities & Funded Training) program already is providing support to the state’s workhorse aviation and aerospace industries.
“Training upskilled Kansans to better align with emerging technologies in this sector is critical,” said Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland. “ALOFT funding is designed to maintain our best-in-class status.”
Kansas is currently home to more than 450 aviation companies that generate a whopping 4% of the state’s gross domestic product. ALOFT funding can be put toward uses that include construction of on-site training facilities, training equipment, trainers’ salaries and youth training services.
Also supported by the Department of Commerce, the new Made in Kansas initiative is designed to promote Kansas manufacturers to potential customers around the world. An initial 12 manufacturers were admitted into the program in November from across the state, including in small and medium-sized communities like Baldwin City, Garden Plain, Ellsworth and Paola. Certified manufacturers have access to an exclusive Made in Kansas seal to feature on packaging, products and promotional materials.
“Having a Made in Kansas logo on products lets customers know they are purchasing excellence, reliability and consistency,” Program Manager Corrie Ann Campbell said. “Our manufacturers embody the Kansas work ethic, which is honed by more than 160 years of pioneering spirit and commitment to workmanship.”