Everyone in Independence sells the community.

Everyone in Independence sells the community.

That was Tom Lesnak’s message Tuesday night during a presentation to the Independence Planning Commission. Lesnak, president of the newly renamed Independence Economic Development, spoke on the eastern Independence industrial park announced last week, ongoing construction at the Independence Regional Ennovation Center and the near completion of Independence’s major employers’ retention survey, among other topics.

Business park

Plans are still preliminary on the recently announced 363-acre business park at Missouri 78 and Missouri 7, Lesnak said. Many people have asked which school district the project will be in, he said, adding that about 90 percent of it is in the Fort Osage School District and the rest is in the Independence School District.

“There are a number of things we have to do, but it gives us something right now that we can start marketing the project,” said Lesnak, estimating the project will take between 15 and 20 years to fully develop. “One of the frustrations I’ve had since I’ve gotten here is a lack of what I call economic development infrastructure.”

The Community of Christ owns the land, and Clayco Inc. is the project’s developer. Lesnak said the three-phase project aims to attract mostly light industrial and back-office operations, such as customer call centers and regional insurance officers.

“This is not a heavy industrial park,” he said. “It needs to really blend in well with the Harmony Development there in the Little Blue Valley.”

The project is now being marketed to prospective tenants and will build out once buyers and tenants are secured, Lesnak said. Business retention among already-existing companies in Independence also are crucial to the project.

“I hope we see dirt moving out there next year; we’ll just see what the market holds,” Lesnak said. “Right now, ‘land’ is a little bit of a four-letter word in the economic development business. Not a lot of developers are doing land projects. We were fortunate ... to have a very patient landowner and project developer.”  

Ennovation Center

The Independence Regional Ennovation Center, the rehabilitation and business incubator at the site of the former Independence Regional Health Center, now has a projected opening date in early October, Lesnak said. Construction is more than half completed on the kitchen and biotechnology spaces, and more than 20 kitchen incubator tenants will occupy those available spaces on opening day, Lesnak said.

“The demand for this has really been a surprise for us,” he said. “We, honestly, going into this did not do any market research. We didn’t know if a kitchen incubator was viable or not. We just knew we had to reuse the kitchen space; it was going to be very costly to use it for anything other than a kitchen.”

The office and technology incubator portion is set to open in 2011.

Business retention survey

Lesnak presented preliminary results on the economic development council’s business retention survey among the Top 10 major employers in Independence. The survey will be completed by the end of September.

According to the results:

50 percent of companies are considered “emerging.” 50 percent of companies plan to expand within the next three years. 77 percent of companies are planning new products or services. Companies consider the top community strengths as a quality workforce, its location in the Midwest and in the metropolitan region, and that the city is “business friendly.” Companies consider community weaknesses to be the education level of its workforce; crime and the perception of safety, and the negative perception of community.

“It’s not something that’s new,” Lesnak said of a negative perception of Independence.

“We are all out selling Independence – everyone in the community. We’ve all got to be ‘iN.’”