“The Transit has been transformational,” says Hand. And these
moves have “brought some stability to the existing workforce, and
brought a lot of new jobs into the region,” giving Kansas City even
more credibility as a manufacturing center.
Grupo Antolin, the largest auto parts supplier in the world,
recently built an $18-million, 148,000-square-foot plant in Kansas
City in response to the growing needs of the US car companies.
The firm now employs about 300 people in the metro region.
And Antolin was just one of about a dozen suppliers to recently
establish new operations in the area. Martinrea International, one
of the largest global Tier 1 auto-parts suppliers, signed a long-term,
build-to-suit lease for a 275,560-square-foot building in suburban
Riverside’s Horizons Business Park.
Other players in the region have also
responded to Kansas City’s growth. Rail
companies, for example, have built huge
intermodal facilities like BNSF’s at
Logistics Park Kansas City. And Hand says
the local community colleges have done
their part by adding new training courses
that prepare workers for the jobs created
by GM, Ford and their suppliers.
But it’s not just longtime industrial powerhouses like Kansas City that are benefit-ting from the present recovery.
Manufacturing has undergone several
changes since the advent of the recession,
and those changes could end up benefit-ting many areas once considered off the
beaten path. At a time when many businesses are flocking to the nation’s downtown cores, some manufacturers are
headed in the opposite direction.
“The first and most important thing to
these companies is access to low- and no-
skilled labor,” says Thomas Boyle, Chicago-
based principal with Transwestern, espe-
cially ones that need seasonal labor. “Not
having that access hurts their operating
But that access to labor has to be cou-
pled with affordable land costs, affordable
energy and great transportation networks
that can move products from the manufac-
turing site to the customers, and that com-
bination only exists in certain pockets of
the Chicago metro area and the greater
Midwest, adds the site selection expert.
With land costs hitting record highs in
dense markets such as the O’Hare Airport
region, that means many companies are
taking peeks at these “overlooked areas,”
says Boyle. “It’s the inverse of what is hap-
pening in the office sector.”
And to bring manufacturing operations
to once-overlooked areas, the competition
can get intense, Boyle says. He recently
helped Kenall Manufacturing, a commer-
cial lighting company, relocate its head-
quarters and factory from north suburban
Gurnee, IL, to a facility just over the
Wisconsin border in Kenosha. Like many firms in the area, it
needed to expand, but company officials wanted to preserve the
workforce they had recruited, restricting possible locations to
northeastern Illinois or southeastern Wisconsin.
“We negotiated a significant municipal incentives package,” says
Boyle, and that helped tip the balance to Kenosha, after starting
with 25 to 30 feasible locations. The move allowed Kenall to
expand from a 120,000-square-foot building to a 354,000-square-
foot facility in the Business Park of Kenosha. “One of the things I
do most is move companies from Illinois to Wisconsin.”
A big factor that is helping US manufacturers expand is the
intensifying demand from customers for quick delivery. That
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