ars Chocolate North America likes to say that "Snickers really satisfies."
The 100-year-old confectionary company may soon be saying that "Topeka really satisfies Mars."
The city of Topeka, Kan., received a sweet treat of its own when Mars announced a $250-million, 200-job plant investment in the capital community.
The 350,000-sq.-ft. (32,515-sq.-m.) facility is the first Mars Chocolate site built in the U.S. in 35 years. The company broke ground Aug. 23 on what will be a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at the Kanza Fire Commerce Park in Topeka.
"This new site represents Mars' commitment to manufacturing in the United States for the U.S. market," said Todd Lachman, president of Mars Chocolate Latin America and North America. "We are proud to create jobs in America's heartland and are honored to partner with the Topeka community for years to come."
With the food-processing industry, Topeka has found its sweet spot.
Mark Broadhurst, director of public affairs and government relations for Mars Inc., tells Site Selection that "the policy environment advocated by the governor and Legislature certainly makes Kansas much more hospitable than other states. And GO Topeka is a top-notch, professional outfit. They know their stuff, and they genuinely work hand in glove with site selection teams. The personal relationship and enthusiasm and the reception we received from day one in the community were very rewarding."
Mars looked at 13 states "and multiple sites within these states," says Broadhurst. "We narrowed it down to a handful and we ended up in Topeka."
The pivotal site criteria, he notes, included the local labor pool and the logistics network provided by the tract in Topeka.
"The site itself and the highly skilled work force were critical factors," Broadhurst says. "A site close to rail was a key factor. Incentives were not the driver. We are a privately held business. Being private, it enables us to take a long-term approach. This is a 50-year project for Mars."
GO Topeka, the economic development arm of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, was instrumental in putting the deal together, notes Broadhurst. "GO Topeka, the county, the city and the state all offered comprehensive incentives that made it easier to decide upon Topeka. It was a real win-win project for Mars and the community."
The values of Topeka and Kansas were important in attracting Mars, he adds. "We take a very principled approach to how we make our business decisions," Broadhurst says. "We are a values-driven business. Our five core principles are quality, responsibility, efficiency, freedom and mutuality. These principles define our company and drive everything we do. Topeka was a cultural fit for us."
'Strong, Ethical and Hard-Working'
Jeremiah Tilghman, general plant manager for Bimbo Bakeries/Allen Foods in Topeka, echoes those comments. "Our site in Topeka was selected for future growth and strategic logistic opportunities," he tells Site Selection. "The reception that we have received in Topeka has been tremendous. When we first started here a few months ago, there was no place for our leadership team to meet, so we officed out of the chamber of commerce for a few weeks while we looked for space."
Today, Bimbo operates a 135,000-sq.-ft. (12,542-sq.-m.) plant in Topeka and employs about 60 workers. "That will grow in time to about 110 total workers," says Tilghman. "The chamber has been very accommodating for any needs of our business. They have been extremely helpful with permits, contacts for recruiting, establishing relationships with local vendors, etc."
Bimbo especially likes the area labor quality, he notes. "The work force is tremendous," he says. "It is strong, ethical and hard-working. We have hired the vast majority of our employees from Topeka and the surrounding area."
Tax incentives "helped with the building and land," Tilghman says. "State and local incentives were a big help. We are also extremely pleased with the local utilities and infrastructure. You could not ask for better resources or a better network of people."
Tilghman says he likes the fact that "Topeka is a town that is small enough to have a small-town feel, but large enough to still have all of the big-city amenities. It is less than one hour from the two big state universities, and Kansas City is only about an hour away too. It is a great location."
Allen Moore, director of engineering and maintenance for Frito-Lay in Topeka, says his own company earlier this year completed a 2-year-long project that resulted in a 90,000-sq.-ft. (8,361-sq.-m.) warehouse expansion that "improves and streamlines how we get our products to market." The project added more than 65 jobs, bringing Frito-Lay's employment in Topeka to around 825 workers.
The latest project comes on the heels of two earlier expansions that saw the company add 75,000 sq. ft. (6,968 sq. m.) in 2007 and 125,000 sq. ft. (11,613 sq. m.) in 2009. "Since 2007, we have been in constant expansion," Moore says. "Our total facility space today is at 800,000 sq. ft. (74,320 sq. m.) under roof. We have virtually doubled in size over the last four years."
A logistics-friendly location drove the latest site selection, he says. "Our central geographic location in our distribution system was the most important factor," Moore says. "We had property that was already ready for expansion. We did not have to purchase any additional property. Plus, the economic partnering with the state of Kansas was helpful. They helped us with standard tax abatements and other incentives. GO Topeka, the city and county were all very good to work with on this deal."
Frito-Lay likes its Topeka area work force too, he notes. "We have had good luck with attracting and retaining very good employees from this area," says Moore. "We draw from beyond the city proper. We are very competitive in wages and benefits. This is a great place to work, and we have never had a layoff at this facility."
Kansas helped its cause when the state created a machinery and equipment tax exemption in 2006, Moore says. "As we add a lot of manufacturing equipment, that lets us save dollars on the project and compete with other locations."
Robotics Training Comes to Topeka
Another factor poised to increase the competitiveness of Topeka is the advent of robotics training of local workers. Doug Schenher, vice president of customer satisfaction for Yaskawa Motoman Robotics in Miamisburg, Ohio, says his firm launched a training program in Topeka in August to equip the next generation of manufacturing employees who will work in advanced robotics.
"Our strategy has always been to get closer to our customers and be more regionally based," Schenher says. "Our first move was to create regional training out of our regional offices. We were approached by GO Topeka with the idea of taking this same program to the high school level. As a result, we are working with the school district in Topeka. We launched this program in August, and we already have the first phase of robotics instruction installed. We have a dedicated classroom."
When asked why his firm chose Topeka for its first high school program, Schenher said it was because "they brought the idea to us. We are always looking at expanding, and Topeka came to us with their idea of having a dedicated high school program for this kind of instruction. It was their vision, and it was a perfect match for our company. We needed a presence in Kansas, and this gave us the opportunity to do that."
The Topeka Chamber is funding the robotics training program in the school, says Schenher, whose firm provides training through technical schools and community colleges in other U.S. locations. "We found that our model is adaptable to the high school level," he says. "We are in every industry. We have over 175 models of robots that cover every robotic operation out there today. They are used in welding, material handling, dispensing, palletizing and virtually every other type of manufacturing application. This new program in Topeka is all about giving our customers a better level of service."
This investment profile was prepared under the auspices of GO Topeka, a division of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. For more information visit www.GoTopeka.com or call Dawn Wright at (785) 234-2644.