As Independence officials work their way through some big decisions this year regarding utilities, a what-might-have-been story is helpful.
Blue Springs has landed the Faurecia auto supplier plant, bringing the promise of 300 jobs by this time next year. The city approved a $69 million tax abatement plan.
Independence was in the running for that plant. Faurecia looked at the site on Noland Road just north of Cargo Largo.
Tom Lesnak, president and CEO of the Independence Economic Development Council and the Independence Chamber of Commerce, points out that many factors are in play in business developments. In this case, the high cost of the land on Noland was one factor. Access, complicated by the busy rail line there, was another. And Blue Springs put more direct assistance on the table than Independence would, Lesnak said.
“In Blue Springs, they gave a very aggressive incentive package,” he said.
But what brought the talks to a halt was the cost of electricity. Specifically, Independence Power & Light rates are 60 percent higher, the company said, than what it pays at a similar plant in Kentucky. That’s a difference of about $600,000 a year.
“When they stopped talking to us,” Lesnak said, “it was over the utility issue.”
This isn’t new. The city for some time has tried to figure out how to balance residential, commercial and industrial rates.
“Everybody realizes it’s an issue,” Lesnak said.
This conversation came up last week at Mayor Eileen Weir’s Leadership Exchange group. Those meetings include a range of civic leaders and are open to anyone.
Mayor Weir agreed that commercial rates are too high and pointed out that the City Council wants IPL to consolidate the nearly two dozen different rates it has.
More fundamentally, growth in the city would help greatly.
“Creating more customers is certainly a sound strategy,” she said.
Ron Finke, president of Stewardship Capital (and a longtime columnist on this page) suggested the city tackle these questions with some urgency. A major facilities report is due to the city this summer.
“We’ve got to fast-track the electric issue,” Finke said.
And he tossed out a broader question: If residents are getting no benefit from an electric utility owned by the city, what’s the point? Why not sell to, oh let’s say, KCP&L?
“But nobody wants to talk about that,” Finke said.
“Oh,” Mayor Weir responded, “it’s being talked about.”
City Manager Zach Walker has said this is the year that the city will have to make IPL decisions that will reverberate for decades. Key in those considerations has to be finding a way toward industrial rates that are fair to homeowners but also attractive enough for the city to compete for the next Faurecia.
New in Blue Springs
Blue Springs has a couple major openings this week. Colonial Gardens, which came under new ownership a year ago and has expanded, has a ribbon-cutting event from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. today. It’s at 27610 E. Wyatt Road. Then on Friday Orscheln’s formally opens its first store in Eastern Jackson County. It’s at 1100 S.W. Missouri 7 (the corner of 7 and 40). At 11 a.m., there’s a ribbon cutting and a flyover by the KC Flight Team. Grand opening events run through Saturday.
New in Grain Valley
The Grain Valley Partnership, the group formed from the merger last year of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, has a new director, Tim Russell.
He spoke briefly at the group’s annual dinner Saturday night and said the growth and other changes in the community in recent years are what caught his attention.
Grain Valley is attractive “because it’s so alive and it’s so exciting right now,” he said.
The partnership gave its annual awards at the dinner:
• The Mary Strack Community Award – Brad Welle, deputy superintendent of the the Grain Valley School District.
• Non-profit of the year – the Grain Valley Assistance Council.
• Business people of the year – Kent and Jennifer Hoffman of Papa Murphy’s.
• Business of the year – the city of Grain Valley.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or email@example.com. He’s on Twitter: @FoxEJC