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  • Friday, July 26, 2019 8:35 AM | Anonymous

    By Mike Genet - The Examiner

    In addition to a planned industrial park in the Little Blue Valley, the city of Independence could also issue industrial bonds to help facilitate Ronson Manufacturing’s move to the former Kmart building at Missouri 291 and U.S. 24.

    An ordinance to issue $6.15 million in bonds and approve the development project and tax abatement plan received its first reading at Monday’s City Council meeting. The council likely will vote on the ordinance, as well as more than $37 million in bonds for the industrial park, on Aug. 5.

    The council unanimously approved rezoning for Ronson in February. The sheet metal manufacturer, founded in 1976, employs more than 80 people and currently operates in a 50,000-square foot facility at 3000 Jackson Drive, just north of R.D. Mize Road near Little Blue Parkway. It also leases about 55,000 square feet of space in the Geospace Center caves for storage.

    According to city documents the Kmart building and adjacent retail strip center will be conveyed to the city, which will then lease it to Ronson. The company, not the city, would bear all responsibility to pay back the bonds.

    The tax abatement plan would last through 2030. For the first two years Ronson would pay a fixed payment in lieu of tax equal to the taxes due in 2018. From 2021 on, Ronson would receive 75 percent tax abatement and also make a payment equal to the 2018 payment plus a 2 percent increase in odd years.

    Kyle Carver, son of Ronson’s owner, said in January the company could add a few jobs once it makes the move.

    “We’re at a crossroads and need to be under one roof,” he said then, adding that he thought taking over the empty building of a former big box retailer “could be a win-win.”

    The former Kmart building and adjacent retail strip center had been assessed at $400,000 last year and preliminarily assessed at $836,000 this year, and the proposed improvements project would raise valuation about $350,000, according to city documents.

    ENGLEWOOD: The council on Aug. 5 also could approve the petition to establish the Englewood Community Improvement District, which essentially would encompass the Englewood Arts District and would add a 1 percent sales tax within the district.

    Revenues would be used for public improvements such as streetscape amenities, signage, banners, landscaping, public artwork and maintenance within the district.

    A public hearing on the Englewood CID petition will also take place at the Aug. 5 meeting.


  • Wednesday, July 24, 2019 4:53 PM | Anonymous

    From the Examiner - Story by Mike Genet

    An industrial park in Independence’s Little Blue Valley, long-discussed by city officials and civic leaders, appears to be on the horizon.

    A plan before the City Council calls for the city to issue $37.15 million in industrial bonds for a 34-acre plot that would have about 550,000 square feet of new industrial space in two speculative buildings.

    The land off R.D. Mize Road between Jackson Drive and Little Blue Parkway would be conveyed to the city, which would lease the property VanTrust Real Estate. VanTrust would have tax abatement from 2020 to 2041 and would bear all risk in paying back the bonds.

    The ordinance for the bonds received its first reading at Monday’s council meeting. The council likely will vote on the project on Aug. 5.

    “This is what the council and city had been trying to do for years,” Council Member Scott Roberson said. “This creates a lot more money in economic turnover in Independence.”

    Assistant City Manager Mark Randall pointed out that even with tax abatement, the city, county and schools will still receive much more revenue from payments in lieu of taxes than they currently do from the farmland. Last year, the property in question had an assessed valuation of $4,570. When construction is complete, according to city project documents, the assessed valuation will be more than $7.6 million.

    Grant Harrison, representing VanTrust, said the company does not have tenants lined up for the buildings but that demand industrial space is real. He said VanTrust hopes to start grade work at the site this winter or next spring.

    “We’ll be marketing the day we break ground,” he said.

    Community Development Director Tom Scannell said the land is in a flood plain, but the developer plans to bring in enough dirt to raise the ground level about five feet.

    The two buildings could be divided into areas of 80,000 to 100,000 square feet.

    Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council, said the industrial park plan has been the EDC’s top priority for four or five years, though it feels like it’s been a lifetime coming.

    Lesnak agreed with Harrison that the industrial buildings would be not be pie-in-the-sky speculation.

    “Most available space is outdated,” Lesnak said. “We think the market’s there.”

    “We’ve been in conversations with (VanTrust) for a year, at least, trying to identify a site they were comfortable with.”

    “Obviously it’s a risk to the developer, but that’s why there’s some abatement, and everything they do is top of the line,” Lesnak said. “They hold their investments for a long time.”

    Early plans for a different business park development on 90 acres on the other side of Little Blue Parkway have not been scrapped, Lesnak said,

    “We’re still marketing that site, but we don’t have a developer on board. If (the VanTrust project) is successful, we think that will really be a launching pad.”


  • Thursday, May 16, 2019 8:08 AM | Anonymous

    The Independence EDC Board of Directors has elected Tom Waters to serve as Chairman of the Board for a two-year term starting on July 1st

     Tom was previously served as Vice Chairman and is the owner of Corporate  CopyPrint on the Independence Square.  Mr. Waters will be replacing Dr. Jason Snodgrass of the Fort Osage School District who will be concluding his term at the end of June.  Also elected as officers were Steve Mauer with the Mauer Law Firm who will fill the role of Vice Chair, Bob Glaser with Community America Bank as Secretary and Greg Finke with the Independence School District will serve as Treasurer.  

    New officers and Board members will be formally introduced at the EDC Annual Meeting on Friday, June 21st.

  • Sunday, March 03, 2019 8:17 PM | Anonymous

    For economic development organizations, progress is the measuring stick by which success is determined. In Independence, it is no different for the Independence Council for Economic Development.

    While our mission has not changed over the 35 years this organization has existed, the methods and strategies have changed drastically. The ultimate goal is to make sure our residents have the best opportunity at economic success and that employers have an environment that they thrive, grow and be profitable.

    The EDC always sets annual goals for progress/growth, but a few years ago we added some long-term priorities that we felt were important to measure. We looked at past data and then built some stretch goals that we felt were attainable, albeit not easily attainable within the timeframe allotted. It was going to take some work by everyone in the community to make it happen.

    The first goal was raising median household income. From the period of 2000 to 2013, median income increased by 8.7 percent. While this period did include a severe economic downturn and higher unemployment rates, it wasn’t on par with other regional communities that saw higher rates of growth. As a result, many families struggled to keep up with the rising cost of living and revenues that support public services such as police, fire, streets, and parks saw a drop that took seven years to recover back to previous levels between 2007 and 2014.

    In 2015, the EDC Board of Directors set a goal of reaching a figure of $50,000 in median household income by the year 2020. This would mean that we would need to achieve 13 percent growth in a five-year period as we came off a period in which we only saw less than 9 percent growth in the 13 previous years. Last year, we achieved our goal two years ahead of schedule as we reached a level of $50,122.

    So how did we see such minimal income growth for 13 years and then alter the growth curve so substantially? I think the answer to the first part of that question is a result of lost focus on what really drives economic development success.

    If you look back at the early 2000s, Independence was very focused on enhancing the retail areas around the Interstate 70 corridor. We used tax incentives to overcome some barriers to development, but we traded away the financial resources we needed to provide public services. The good news is that many of those tax incentives have started to expire and will continue to do so over the next decade, and that will bring new revenue dollars to our schools and other public services funded by sales taxes.

    The influx of retail also created new employment opportunities, but retail jobs won’t grow your median household income. The number one employment sector in Independence is service, but that sector is also among the lowest paying jobs in a community. While it is necessary and vital to have retail and service amenities to serve residents, you don’t want to put all your eggs in that basket.

    So what changed in the last few years? I think the biggest change is focusing on what our employment priorities are going to be. It kicked off with the effort to retain the Unilever manufacturing facility on 35th Street. After the sale of the WishBone brand, this facility was on the brink of closure.

    Working with Unilever officials, we developed a plan to support the expansion of the plant to support a new product line. It helped us retain over 200 jobs and they have since added another 100 jobs. At the time of the expansion, average wage levels were over $40,000 per year, and those types of jobs will move the needle on median household income.

    Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) continues to hire at Lake City at a wage above regional averages for manufacturing. We also continue to work with other existing companies like Ronson Manufacturing as they expand their operations. We still have much work to do if we want to continue our momentum to grow and attract advanced manufacturing.

    Less than 3 percent of industrial space is vacant, but we’ve been unable to attract new speculative industrial construction and that is a top priority right now. While land in the Little Blue Valley is vast, so is the flood plain, which either limits our ability to develop or makes the cost prohibitive without substantial incentives to offset the costs to mitigate.

    We are also faced with the challenge that every community is dealing with, and that is workforce. Jobs that used to be very manual-labor-oriented have now shifted to being very mechanized. Even the word labor has become outdated as we’ve shifted from physical exertion to mental capacity because not only do today’s workers have to run the machines, many times they need to be able to program them as well. Success in the next few years may very well be measured by how prepared we are to prepare and train our workforce for the jobs of the future.

    In the end, community success isn’t measured by numbers on a spreadsheet. It is measured by the quality of life citizens enjoy. To be able to support their families, to have reliable transportation to get to work, and having that extra income to enjoy a night out occasionally. When we are successful at that, we all win.

  • Saturday, March 02, 2019 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    From the Examiner - Corbin Kottman

    Six years have brought significant growth to Children’s Mercy East, with the medical center seeing a first year’s 24,000 visits grow to a steady 76,000 per year. In response, the hospital has announced plans to renovate the first floor of their operation, providing much-needed space for the children and staff.

    Cheryl Melton, director of Children’s Mercy East, said executives anticipated the growth when the building was constructed, however the speed in which the renovation has become necessary was a surprise.

    “We already knew we were going to expand over the course of time. We kind of already had that grand plan; we just didn’t know we were going to have to expand so quickly,” she said.

    Children’s Mercy East currently operates under a shared space, as Melton described it, with only one patient-care area, the speciality clinics and urgent care operating in the same space. Once the renovation of the first floor is completed, Urgent Care will move there, and the second floor will be dedicated to speciality clinics.

    The new first floor will feature 21 urgent care exam rooms, with two large procedure rooms, and specialized doors for transporting patients in an emergency. With more space, the second floor will have 20 exam rooms dedicated to specialty care and expanded clinic hours, which means less wait time for families.

    The total project cost is stated to be $5 million. Melton, along with hospital board member Tom Weir, confirmed the faciluty has also received a Mabee Foundation grant, which will contribute $1 million if Children’s Mercy can raise the rest of the funds by Oct. 1. Melton said they are approximately $800,000 from their goal.

    “We are very lucky the Eastern Jackson County community has embraced us,” she said. “We’re very optimistic they will continue to do so.”

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2019 10:25 AM | Anonymous

    By Mike Genet - The Examiner

    Ronson Machine and Manufacturing is aiming to relocate in Independence to the former Kmart building on U.S. 24 in the Susquehanna area.

    The sheet metal manufacturer, founded in 1976, employs more than 80 people and currently operates in a 50,000-square foot facility at 3000 Jackson Drive, just north of R.D. Mize Road near Little Blue Parkway. It also leases about 55,000 square feet of space in the Geospace Center caves for storage.

    The Planning Commission last week unanimously recommended rezoning the old Kmart, which closed last year, from general commercial to service commercial, which permits light manufacturing and warehousing. The City Council is scheduled to have a first reading for the rezoning Jan. 22 and could approve it Feb. 4.

    Kyle Carver, whose father owns the company, said Ronson is about three times the size of what it was in 1989, when his father Terry became owner, and has slowly added employees. It could add a few after the proposed move.

    “We’re at a crossroads and need to be under one roof,” he said, adding that he saw the empty building of a former big box retailer and “thought this could be a win-win.”

    Howard Levy, representing the company that owns the building, said they had reached out to numerous retailers to see if they had any interest in moving into the facility. Kmart’s portion of the building is nearly 97,000 square feet.

    Responding to questions about noise and possible traffic, Carver said sheet metal manufacturing makes less noise than decades ago, and Ronson doesn’t reach federal thresholds requiring ear protection inside its own building. With employees working in shifts, he said, most movement from Ronson would take place to during non-peak traffic times.

    Doug Goodwin, a supervisor at Ronson, said the company hasn’t received any noise complaints at its current manufacturing facility, which has a proximity to homes similar to the Kmart the location, if not closer.

    Kati Horner, the city of Independence’s traffic engineer, said Ronson’s possible move shouldn’t stress traffic too much in the area. Being that U.S. 24 is a state highway, a stoplight at the area’s entrance would be at the discretion of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

    Council Member Curt Dougherty, whose district includes that lot, said another retailer occupant was not realistic and Ronson moving in would be an “uptick” in the neighborhood and good for the city.

    “Other cities were all trying to lure them away,” he said.

  • Monday, January 07, 2019 10:29 AM | Anonymous

    By Mike Genet - The Examiner

    Cargo Largo wants to consolidate its operations and build a 463,000-square foot facility just north of the current store on 35th Street in Independence.

    If approved, the facility on currently vacant land west of Noland Road would have a new store, corporate headquarters and warehousing to accommodate Cargo Largo’s growth in e-commerce, and it could add more than 200 full-time jobs. All told, the project is budgeted at about $40.5 million, according to city documents.

    A first reading for the preliminary development plan is scheduled for tonight’s City Council meeting. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plan last month.

    Cargo Largo had hoped to build the facility on the same land starting in 2008, and the Union Pacific Railroad put in rail crossing lights just off Noland Road directly across from Truman High School, but the building plans got shelved due to recession.

    If approved, several details would still need to be ironed out before construction, such as possible economic incentives and extending Weatherford Road and Lynn Court between 31st and 35th streets. The railroad crossing would be part of a new 33rd Street. According to city documents, tractor-trailer traffic would access the site from 35th Street, not the new 33rd Street.


  • Sunday, December 30, 2018 9:27 PM | Anonymous

    The economic growth of Independence continued on an upswing during 2018 according to new data released by the Independence Economic Development Council.

    "The success of our economic development efforts can be directly measured through some common indicators that we track and monitor" said Tom Lesnak, Independence EDC President.  Among some of the highlights for the year:

    • Median household income exceeded the 2020 goal of $50,000 two years early.
    • The current unemployment rate is at 2.9% which is at a historic low.
    • The number of Independence residents who are employed has increased by 2,318 since the start of the year.
    • The latest population estimates show an increase of 6.2% since the 2010 census and currently stands at 121,018.
    • EDC staff responded to over 850 requests for business assistance.

    "We will continue to work on strategies that continue to enhance our economy with a focus in 2019 on workforce skills enhancement and development of new light industrial spaces and the enhanced employment opportunities that those types of companies can provide to our residents" said Lesnak.

    X X X

    Data sources: MERIC, ESRI

  • Friday, December 07, 2018 9:25 AM | Anonymous

    California-based Black Bear Diner has been spreading to the Midwest with more than a dozen locations set to open in the next year, including one in Independence.

    The new metro location is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter, just south of the new Lion’s Choice at South Little Blue Parkway and Interstate 70.

    The menu includes chicken fried steak, chicken apple sausage, corned beef hash, specialty omelets and scrambles, pancakes, waffles, French toast, a variety of Benedicts, breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, pecan-crusted trout, chicken pot pie, slow-cooked pot roast, house-made meat loaf and steaks.

    The entire menu is served all day so customers can order pot roast at 8 a.m. or pancakes at 8 p.m.

    A California restaurant chain known for its homestyle comfort food is heading to the Kansas City metro, The Kansas City Star reports.

    Black Bear Diner plans to open a restaurant in Independence near Lion's Choice. It features a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options such as the Bigfoot chicken fried steak and eggs; burgers and sandwiches such as The Gobbler which features roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce; prime rib; homestyle fried chicken; housemade meatloaf and slow-cooked pot roast. 

    Founded in 1995, Black Bear Diner has grown to 118 locations in 11 states.

  • Friday, December 07, 2018 9:22 AM | Anonymous

    The new Aspen Dental office at 3901 South Bolger Drive expands dental care access in the Independence community when it opens on Thurs., Dec. 13. The office is located in Jackson County – which has been designated as a dental health professional shortage area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Read the complete story from the Kansas City Business Journal

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