Here’s how Johnson County elected officials are reacting to Panasonic news

The Sunflower Army Ammunition Plan in De Soto, above, has been closed since the early 1990s. A new $4 billion Panasonic battery factory is now set to come to that spot in western Johnson County. File photo.

On Wednesday, Kansas state officials announced that Japanese industrial conglomerate Panasonic would build a new $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto, partially on the site of the long-shuttered Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

In case you missed it: The facility, which will construct batteries for Tesla vehicles, is expected to bring 4,000 new jobs with it, according to Kansas state officials.

  • Another 16,500 construction jobs could be created during the building of the plant, which officials described as potentially the largest electric vehicle battery-making plant in the world.
  • The plant, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday, will make make Kansas a “production epicenter” for the batteries they use.
  • The state also put together a package of tax incentives for Panasonic totaling nearly $1 billion, or roughly a quarter of the projected cost of the facility.

De Soto comes ‘full circle’: In a release, De Soto leaders voiced what they think the announcement means for the city itself with Mayor Rick Walker saying the city has now “come full circle.”

  • “Eighty years ago, the world’s largest smokeless powder plant [Sunflower] was established here, just south of De Soto,” Walker said. “At that time, we were doing our part to protect our country and strengthen our national defense. Now we have an opportunity to bring the property back to productive use. We’re incredibly proud that the site of the former Army ammunitions plant will help support efforts to produce clean energy – and once again serve as an economic engine for the region.”
  • City Administrator Mike Brungardt said the battery plant will provide well-paying advanced manufacturing careers for workers of all skill levels.
  • “The size of the project, the scope of its long-term employment profile, and the spinoff economic impacts put Kansas and De Soto on a global stage and will offer life-changing opportunities to thousands of individuals and families throughout the region,” he said.

Wider Johnson County impacts: In a statement, outgoing Board of County Commissioners Chair Ed Eilert said the $4 billion investment will bring “thousands of jobs and opportunities” to Johnson Countians and Kansans.

  • “We are pleased the area of Sunflower that has been annexed by De Soto will become a viable development project,” he said. “As planning gets underway to develop the facility and property in De Soto, Johnson County’s Planning, Housing and Community Development Department will coordinate with the state and city of De Soto as requested in the development of the project.”
  • At the Post’s Johnson County Board of County Commission chair election forum, board member and chair candidate Charlotte O’Hara voiced concerns about the tax incentive funding that the project has received from the state.
  • “It’s like fool’s gold,” she said. “You have to build your economy one step at a time. Focus on the small businesses because that’s where the future is.”

Federal reaction: In a release Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat representing Kansas’s Third District, welcomed the company to Johnson County.

  • “This was a collaborative effort that I’m grateful to be a part of, and it’s going to have an amazing impact on our local economy—creating good jobs and attracting other advanced industry to our area,” she said. “Bringing more manufacturing home to the U.S. is a major priority of mine, particularly as we work to address inflation, and there’s no better place than right here in the Third District to make that happen.”
  • Sen. Jerry Moran, who attended Wednesday’s announcement, took to Twitter to name the benefits of the addition of the Panasonic plant on the state’s economy and local businesses.

Local take: State Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park expressed enthusiasm about the announcement on Twitter and for her fellow Kansas House Commerce committee members who played a part in the process.

  • Also in Overland Park, Mayor Curt Skoog said the city’s residents and businesses will also benefit from the incoming plant in addition to the De Soto community.
  • “I am thrilled for our neighbors in De Soto for securing this important economic development project,” Skoog said.  “Quality places require quality jobs.  Overland Park families and businesses will also benefit economically from the spinoff economic impact of a new industry focused on clean energy.  Overland Park has long attracted and provided our region with high-quality talent and this will continue with a new influx of jobs in our area.”

Local Chambers of Commerce weigh in: Sara Ritter, De Soto Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council President, said the Chamber is excited to see what the Panasonic facility will do for the area’s local businesses.

  • “Along with all the entities that helped bring Panasonic to the region, we will be an example of how cooperative economic development can attract mega companies.” Ritter said.
  • Overland Park’s Chamber of Commerce also expressed excitement about the project, thanking the state leaders who had a hand in making it happen.