The Sunflower Ammunition Plant has been closed since the 1990s. It will now be the site of the county’s new largest economic development with Panasonic. Photo courtesy of Johnson County

Lynne H ermansen
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced Wednesday, July 13 Japan’s Panasonic Corp selected Kansas for a multimillion dollar mega-factory to produce electric vehicle batteries for Tesla and other carmakers.
It is the largest economic development package of taxpayer-funded incentives that the state has offered a private business worth $829 million over 10 years.
State officials expect the new plant to provide 4,000 jobs for a median $50,000 year income and 16,500 temporary construction jobs.
“A new facility of this size is transformational not only for Johnson County but also for the surrounding area and actually the entire state,” Kelly said.
David Toland, Kansas Commerce Secretary, said it would make Panasonic a “Top 20” private employer for the State of Kansas.
Kelly’s administration said they estimated the project will have a $2.5 billion annual economic impact for the state.
“Kansas is no longer an aw shucks, humble, sort of flyover state,”Toland said. “We can compete with anyone and we can say loudly and proudly that Kansas is the best state in the nation for business investment.”
Kris Takamoto, executive Vice President of Panasonic Energy, said they would be providing critical production capacity to one of the fastest growing and most exciting industries in the world.
“Kansas has an impressive history of being home to a skilled manufacturing workforce,” he said. “We appreciate Kansas’s dedication to sustainability and its commitment to and growth in the clean and renewable energy space.”
The state had created a new program to offer incentives that could reach $1 billion or more for five months for large development projects with a refundable 15 percent tax credit on the entire investment a company makes in Kansas.
Between 7.5 and 10 percent of payroll costs may be refunded for the first decade of the project and a company can also set an amount for training and relocation expenses reimbursed per year for five years.
Officials believe the deal’s impact will benefit suppliers and the entire state.
Incentives will also be available for five suppliers who can make $10 million in sales in a year and will be handpicked by Panasonic. It is unique to the deal and intended to build a self-contained supply chain for the battery manufacturing, officials said.
Governor Kelly said it will help Kansas be the production epicenter for batteries powering the increasing demand for electric vehicles.
“Innovations happening right here in Kansas will accelerate the future of electric vehicles on a global scale,” she said.
Companies must agree to repay benefits if their performance merits aren’t met and the state can take back a percentage of benefits if a company relocates to another state within the first 15 years of their agreement.
Kelly and eight top Kansas Legislature leaders  called the State Finance Council unanimously signed off on the package after 45 minutes of closed door discussions before the announcement.
Media members objected to the closed door meeting because no firm details of the agreement had been made public. The incentive framework passed earlier this year to lure Panasonic and legislators also complained at the time details weren’t public.
The site will be at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in DeSoto. It had long been rumored that cleanup of the site and turning the area into a TIF District was in anticipation for the Panasonic plant.

City officials approved relaxing zoning restrictions earlier in the week.
Johnson County Commissioners Shirley Allenbrand and Charlotte O’Hara, who are both running for county commision chair in the August primary, both addressed the deal at a forum at Johnson County College held that evening.
O’Hara said the problem was the state is given one billion in tax incentives and DeSoto is given one billion for an incremental finance district creating two billion in industrial revenue bonds.
“It seems we have given up on the free market,”she said. “And we don’t have to. The engine of our economy is small business. It’s fool’s gold. You run thinking this is the answer. Building one step at a time—that is where the economic future is.”
Allenbrand said it was a proactive plan by the county to provide jobs for everyone everywhere, but they also needed to take a look at the roads as they are terrible in the 6th District.
“I’m excited to see it happen and see Sunflower cleaned up,”she said.
Mike Kelly, Roeland Park Mayor who is also running for county chair, said it was a huge win for Johnson County.
“It shows what can happen when we get rid of rhetoric and work together,”he said. “It is a great opportunity for innovative new careers and to be able to provide jobs for the future. We need to focus on building infrastructure for world class destination careers.”
Ken Selzer, former Kansas Insurance Commissioner who is also running for county chair, said the project is going to change the complexion of Western Johnson County.
“We need to think about roads and support services,”he said. “We need to be at the table earlier for conversations vital to Johnson County involving workforce and housing issues. We need to stop reacting and lead the growth spurt.”
O’Hara said a 2013 post audit performance report for the county proved why she did not support the project.
“Which tools are most effective,” she said. “It is a scathing report of ineffectiveness of tax incentives. We are a trough open to big developers. The market works. Stop picking winners and losers.”
In February, Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved the City of DeSoto’s request for creating a TIF District on the property 5 to 2 with commissioners Michael Ashcraft and Charlotte O’Hara dissenting.
O’Hara said at the time it was a very extensive, deep issue and the problem was asking to divert property taxes to help with clean up of the site.
“There are many, many, many issues,” she said.
O’Hara had said it was the U.S. Department of Defense’s responsibility and far beyond their grasp to be prudent with the money and she had many questions.
Ed Eilert, county chair, had said he appreciated what the City of DeSoto was going through.
“This area if any area has been blighted—this is it,” he said. “Even with the U.S. Army helping to remove the toxic chemicals there is still work to be done to clean up to the standards.”
Eilert said it was a good step forward and bringing businesses in would attract revenue for the region.
Allenbrand had said she supported the creation of the TIF district as the area was in the district she serves for the county and she was excited to see something happening with the land.
“There is not a property where this is needed more,” she said.
In 1942 during WWII and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government uprooted 150 farms in the cities of DeSoto and Eudora region to build an ammunition plant.
Construction began May, 8, 1942 and the plant became operational March 24, 1943. It would become the world’s largest smokeless operational powder plant.
2022 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Sunflower Ammunition Plant. The land has stood dormant for 30 years since 1992.
Operated by the Hercules Powder Plant it produced more than 200 million pounds of propellants and employed more than 12,000 people.
DeSoto annexed 2/3 of the land—6,000 acres November 2021 to form the TIF District for new development.
DeSoto has a current approximate population 6,118 residents and sits along Highway K-10 in western Johnson County. Their annexation of 6,376 acres approximately 10 square miles is one of the biggest annexations of land for Johnson County.
Rick Walker, DeSoto City Mayor, had said taking the step of annexing the land is something the DeSoto community has wanted for years.
“I’m honored to be delivering on the decades long vision of reviving the land into something more prosperous,” he said.
Walker had said the former army ammunition plant is historically and culturally tied to the City of DeSoto.
“While in operation it drew people from around the country and truly made DeSoto prosper,” he said.
DeSoto City Council signed the predevelopment agreement with Sunflower Redevelopment Group. The U.S. Army had transferred the former plant site to them in 2005.
Sunflower Redevelopment’s managing members are Kessinger/Hunter and Co. LC of Kansas City, RESIGHT Holdings LLC of Littleton, Colorado and Midland Properties, Inc of Mission Woods.
Mike Brungardt, DeSoto city administrator, joined that commission meeting and said there was no better example of a blighted property.
“It is critical for productive use,” he said. “It is an enormous opportunity for a job creator and economic prosperity.”
Brungardt had said the creation of the TIF district alone doesn’t set the incentive level for each project and the planning phase was still next.
“The general intent is to generate economic activity $3 to $1 of private to public investment,” he said.
Brungardt said four project plans are initially for 1,000 acres.
“We are starting to understand the property and the work needed to be done,” he said.
Ashcraft had said he had a lot of reservations about TIFs statutes for TIFs to go after properties.
O’Hara had said the TIF was set at 100 percent tax finance with 80 percent of the proceeds for the cleanup operations and 20 percent to the city of DeSoto for TIF expenses.
“The federal government has an obligation to clean this up,” she said. “Why are we diverting taxes? Why are we changing the rules in the middle of the game? Where did all the money go,” she said.
Becky Fast, commissioner, had said she had been involved since the first initiative to repurpose the site in 1998.
“It took federal legislation to work together and the army has worked on it for years,” she said. “They didn’t understand the depth of the chemical damage.”
Fast had said the Army temporarily halted cleanup in 2012 and the Federal government committed another $200 million.
“It’s more than any project nationwide,” she said.
Brungardt said federal legislation was required in 2004 for cleanup and the current owner of the site took responsibility for the cleanup.
Fast said the Kansas Department of Health and Education will require one of the parties to clean up and Brungardt said the EPA had given most of  it to KDHE.
Allenbrand said DeSoto had agreed to be a team together and distribute money to schools, fire station, emergency medical services, park land and more.
“It’s important to realize not all 100 percent is going directly to the city,” she said. “The property has been sitting there before I was born and it is nice to see action.”
O’Hara said she supported the cleanup, but didn’t support the $160 million being used from the county.
“We need to talk to our delegation in D.C.,” she said. “Why are we diverting from public coffers when the Public Department of Defense is responsible.”
O’Hara had said developers walked in fully knowing what was expected of them, and it was a loss of services to the community.
Ashcraft had said it was the first time they were offered a vote in affirmation of the TIF development.
“I support the community in addressing the ongoing needs of the plant,” he said. “But I’m unable to support.”
Ashcraft had said he needed to fully understand the impact on the county and the additional 3,000 acres on the county even though it was probably a justifiable use for the land.
O’Hara said they were being asked to do an agreement from 2004.
“The public understands there are no repercussions on TIF districts,” she said. “The tax incentives are a huge issue.”
Ashcraft had said he was struggling with concerns that they were offering an appearance of being eager to approve without an opportunity to look at how the the TIF impacts the county, especially the 3,000 acres not annexed into DeSoto.
“I’m troubled we are not willing to take time for understanding,” he said.
Janee Hanzlick, commissioner, said she wanted thank DeSoto City Administrator Brungardt.
“It’s been such an issue for the county for years,” she said. “It’s been a huge barrier for economic development. How many years of property and sales tax being generated.”
Brungardt said the property had been taxed as largely vacant or agricultural.
“It hasn’t been a lot,” he said.
Hanzlick said very little had been generated by the property.
“DeSoto and the County has the opportunity to promote economic development and generate more income,” she said. “It’s going to take some investment and initial money to be reinvested.”
Fast said the property had been discussed extensively over the last 25 years.
“I don’t see this as something DeSoto has just sprang on us,” she said. “It’s the largest continuous tract of land and key to growth on K-10.”
Fast said the U.S. Army had kept the property as a whole, they should celebrate the work before them and wanted to know about the vision of the park land.
Brungardt said the parks would remain but the world and economic landscape had changed over the years and land use plan had deviated from the original.
“The highest and best use of the land is to not be residential,” he said. “The vision is for non-residential use, and it is good for industrial and commercial use.”
Jeff Meyers, commissioner, had said he had been involved with other TIF projects with extremely positive results and felt the same effect would occur for DeSoto and the county as a whole with the Sunflower Plant plan.
O’Hara said the new plan didn’t adhere to the 2004 plan and would change Western Johnson County substantially.
“Instead of residential we will have massive Industrial,” she said. “This blue print going forward of warehouses will set the theme for Western Johnson County.”
Ashcraft said DeSoto was stepping up to do a Herculean task but wanted to be cautious as he was concerned about the impact on the county.
Allenbrand said DeSoto had been very transparent.
O’Hara said the general public is not aware of what is happening in DeSoto.
“We can do a better job reaching out to regular folk who will be bearing the burden,” she said.

Tax breaks
The incentives granted to Panasonic include:
• An investment tax credit of $500 million over five years.
• A payroll rebate of $234 million over five years.
• Training and education subsidies of $25 million over five years.
• Relocation payments of $10 million over five years.
• A sales tax exemption worth $60.2 million over five years.