Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2007

Engineered Air mulls growth options

January 18, 2007

With the demand for Engineered Air's production outgrowing its De Soto production plant, planning for expansion is under way.

And although De Soto has a number of advantages in landing the 100,000-square-foot expansion worth "millions of dollars," Engineered Air officials are looking at other sites, said Engineered Air President Rick Rambacher.

"I think the position we're taking is we want to give De Soto the crack," he said. "The city has treated us well, and we would like to work things out."

The company has taken a needed step toward any expansion of its De Soto plant with a rezoning request for a 2.5-acre tract along the site's frontage to 83rd Street from commercial to heavy industrial. The De Soto Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning in December, and the De Soto City Council will consider the request Thursday.

Fifteen acres at the plant site are already zoned heavy industrial, and the city's master plan calls for the 2.5 acres in the request to be rezoned to that classification, Rambacher said.

The expansion would add a stand-alone 100,000-square-foot-building and as many as 175 production employees to the De Soto operation, De Soto plant general manager Laine Wright said. However, he and Rambacher said a final decision on where the addition would be built would likely come this spring.

Company officials were looking at sites in Olathe and Bonner Springs and even an option in Canada but would prefer to build in De Soto, Rambacher said, adding De Soto is the favorite to two important people.

"The preference for Laine and I is to build it here," he said.

Engineered Air manufacturers custom-designed heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems for commercial and industrial sites. In addition to the De Soto plant on 83rd Street, the privately owned, Canada-based company operates seven plants in Canada, some of which supply parts used here. The local plant opened in 1991 and was expanded in 1993, Wright said.

The planned expansion reflects the strength of the current economy and Engineered Air's improving market position in its industry, Rambacher said.

"We are actually taking business away form our competition," he said. "Our growth rate is way ahead of the economy's growth rate."

Aggressive marketing contributes to the improving market share, but Rambacher said the big factor is skill and dedication of Engineered Air's the engineer design teams and line fabricators.

"Our expertise is recognized from a quality standpoint," he said. "Laine makes sure we manufacture one of the highest quality products in the industry."

The company is currently adding a 25,000 square-foot expansion on the west of its plant, which will allow Engineered Air to make the coils used in its units currently purchased for an outside supplier.

Last spring, the Engineered Air sought and received a tax abatement on the $2.5 million expansion last spring. The abatement was in line with the incentive policy the De Soto City Council approved last year, which allows up to a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement for industries with a bit more available to local companies.

That was "on par" with what other cities offered, Rambacher said.

Although the expansion cost "millions," he couldn't be a number to the capital investment because no plans were yet developed, Rambacher said.

When the rezoning was considered last month, two planning commissioners warned Rambacher there would be more and harder questions regarding screening, buffering and traffic when they considered a site plan. They noted the plant's location at an important gateway to De Soto and the importance of nearby areas to the south and west to the recently completed downtown revitalization plan.

The company was already talking to residents living to the plant's south, Rambacher said. He was confident concerns would be addressed.

Citing concerns about traffic, Rambacher said something as simple as staggering the start and end of employees' days could elevate much of the problem.

"The city and the planning commission to date have been really good to work with," he said. "The planning commission has an aggressive and forward-looking plan for the city of De Soto. We look forward to being a part of that.

"What we want to do is balance the city's desire to have a very aesthetically beautiful community with what we can do to have an economical business making a profit in De Soto."

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