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Kansas lawmakers debate $1 billion of incentives to attract mystery manufacturer

Man stands in front of a table, working in a factory with a hose-like tool.
Jeff Chiu/AP
Kansas could be welcoming a high-tech manufacturing plant although the few who know its identity cannot confirm the company or its specific line of work.

The legislature is being asked to update incentives policies for the multi-billion dollar deals of the 21st century.

The legislation in question could authorize the spending of at least $1 billion in tax breaks and other incentives to bring a manufacturer to Kansas.

“This is a really important piece of legislation for our state,” says Kansas State Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park). But taxpayers don’t know who the company is or where it would be located.

Possible boon for Kansas

Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as the state's commerce secretary, labeled it “the largest economic development project” in Kansas history. The company would reportedly spend $4 billion on a 3 million-square-foot plant and employ 4,000 people.

In addition, suppliers serving this company might also come to Kansas bringing an additional 4,000 jobs to the region.

Senate Bill 347 was passed after a 30-minute debate in the Senate, which Clayton describes as lacking “proper vetting.” Now, with the bill in the House, representatives plan to add accountability features, including checks and balances and fewer incentives.

NDA’s abound

Some legislators signed non-disclosure agreements in order to learn the identity of the business.

Clayton, minority whip and ranking minority member of the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, did so and received specifics about the company. She says she was dubious of signing an NDA, but after doing so “realized that this is a huge opportunity for the state.”

Clayton says she believes the positives of gaining a big employer would outweigh the negatives of tax cuts.

“I think that if this does go through, we ultimately bring in more revenue to provide more funding for our public schools,” she says.

Kansans are concerned

The secrecy surrounding this bill is causing Kansans to doubt the wisdom of wooing the mystery company. Worries over the environmental impact of a manufacturing facility and excessive tax breaks are just two concerns.

Clayton emphasizes that legislators need voters’ approval to keep their jobs, so her colleagues have motivation to properly think through the bill. She reminds the public that “because this bill has not yet passed through committee, taxpayers still have an opportunity to communicate concerns.”

Jim McLean, political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, says even without an incentive package passed, Kansas is one of two finalists for the plant location.

McLean recalls Toland saying that the location, along with the literacy level and work ethic of Kansans, are what attracted the company to the state. But McLean says Toland cautioned that while Kansas is a finalist for the factory location, an incentive package is needed to seal the deal.

Clayton stresses that she and her colleagues are working in Kansans’ best interest when attracting this mystery company. “Every single person on that committee and in the legislature wants to make sure that we are not hurting taxpayers,” she says.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org
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