Johnson County to spend $15M for work on site of future Panasonic battery plant

At this week's meeting, Johnson County's Board of County Commissioners approved a total maximum investment of $15 million toward road infrastructure work and a new fire station on the future site of the Panasonic battery plant in De Soto. File photo.

Johnson County has signed on to add some of its funds to the already unprecedented pot of public, taxpayer-backed incentives for a $4 billion Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant set to be built in De Soto.

What’s going on? The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday approved spending up to$15 million to go towards improvements at the site of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, where the new manufacturing center will be built.

What it’s for: Half of the funds —$7.5 million — will go toward road infrastructure improvements on the site, and the other $7.5 million will be earmarked for a new fire station nearby with hazardous material suppression capability.

Bigger picture: Panasonic is already set to receive $829 million in state tax incentives, believed to be the largest such incentive package in Kansas history, on top of what the county is now agreeing to pay to help prepare the mostly rural area for the plant.

  • State officials are promising that the new Panasonic facility will bring an estimated 4,000 jobs to the region, but a recent Kansas City report revealed that Kansas’s deal does not require the Japanese conglomerate to create that many jobs.
  • Still, the Kansas Department of Commerce says it also another 16,500 temporary jobs to also result from the plant’s construction.
  • County Planning Director Jay Leipzig told commissioners that the plant could be up and running as soon as July 2024.

What the county roadwork entails: Since the site’s roads primarily only have two lanes, the county will develop a transportation plan to accommodate the type of traffic expected at the future factory.

  • The transportation plan will be a collaborative effort between the city of De Soto, the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Department of Transportation, the county says.
  • KDOT will provide $26 million in economic development funds for the road improvements.
  • Since this KDOT contribution requires a 25% local match, Johnson County will provide $6.5 million in matching funds and $1 million to be used by KDOT as a contingency or potential state economic grant match.
  • In total, this means the county will provide up to $7.5 million in countywide support funds.

Commissioners for and against: Some commissioners expressed enthusiasm about the project, while others felt the county’s share of the spending was too risky without having a guarantee of how many jobs the plant would produce.

  • “This is a crucial component of many economic development packages, how many jobs are going to be created and what the minimum pay is going to be,” said Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara. “I think that this is way, way too premature.”
  • Commission Chair Ed Eilert said that after the county’s investment, the operation of the Panasonic plant could economically benefit the community down the road.
  • “I think we need to support De Soto and the state in this effort,” Eilert said. “I think the opportunities go beyond just this particular plant.”

Where the commission landed: The $7.5 investment in road infrastructure improvements passed on a 6 to 1 vote, with O’Hara voting against it.

  • Both O’Hara and Commissioner Michael Ashcraft opposed the $7.5 fire station investment, which still passed on a 5 to 2 vote.