Governor Laura Kelly and Panasonic Officials broke ground Wednesday, Nov. 2 for the future site of the Panasonic Battery Plant. The plant is being built Aon the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in DeSoto, Kansas. The U.S. Army has spent the last decade decontaminating the area. The plant will bring 4,000 new jobs to the region. Staff photo by Lynne Hermansen

Lynne Hermansen

The largest economic development project in Kansas formally broke ground Wednesday, Nov. 2.
The Panasonic Lithium Electric Vehicle plant has started construction three and a half months after the mega project’s estimated $830 million incentive package was signed.
“There is absolutely no doubt this project will be transformative for De Soto, the region and the entire state of Kansas,” Gov. Laura Kelly said.
“It will make Kansas a global leader in electric vehicle battery production. It will bring thousands of high paying manufacturing jobs to our state.”
Kelly said she is known as the education governor.
“But there is a good case I’m the jobs Governor and made the economic development Governor too.”
Kelly said the State of Kansas had created and retained 53,000 jobs during her time as Governor.
The State’s investments in K-12 education with creating an outstanding and talented pipeline and it also being the best place to get products to market while being a pro-business environment helped them stand out to insure deals such as the one with Panasonic.
“Economic development is about the people,” she said. “We want people to stay or come home to Kansas and make it possible for them to continue to grow their families and lives. Panasonic doesn’t represent the end, but we are just getting started.”
Rick Walker, DeSoto Mayor, said the city was proud the new plant represents the future of manufacturing and the future of energy; along with revitalizing the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
“We’re proud to play a role in the efforts to re-onshore manufacturing jobs and rebuild the American middle class,” he said.
The U.S. Army has spent the last few years cleaning up the former Ammunition plant that was one of the biggest in the world that helped service the country during WWII.
Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said the project will impact the entire state of Kansas.
“What brings u here today is truly a triumph of humankind,” he said. “It’s about reconciliation and partnership. What brought us here today is the future.
Cowden said the investment will be felt all along the K-10 corridor from Topeka and Lawrence to Olathe and Lenexa, and also impact outside the Kansas City metro area to rural areas of western Kansas such as Colby.
“It’s about future generations who will work here, support families from here, innovate from here, and yes help save the planet from here,” he said.
Cowden said Kansas was cementing their rightful place where transit innovation was occurring.
“We are incredibly proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Panasonic as they revolutionize the industry,” he said.
The project is expected to produce 4,000 direct jobs, 6,500 indirect jobs and 16,500 construction jobs off the $4 billion investment, he said.
Kazuo Tadanobu, president and CEO of Panasonic Energy Company said they expect to being mass production in Kansas by March 2025.
The facility will expand the existing production of Panasonic’s 2170 EV lithium-ion batteries. The company said the batteries are in high demand as the automotive industry moves toward electric vehicles in a push for zero emissions and environmental sustainability.
The majority of the batteries produced in Kansas are expected to be made for Tesla vehicles.
Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland said Kansas had set themselves apart by listening to and honoring their partners at Panasonic.
He said they did so by using a simple trick—reading the back of their business cards, and adopting the seven guiding principles on the back to write and record a song to submit with the rest of the documents.
“Writing a song is certainly not traditional for economic developers,” Toland said. “But it exemplified the culture and the spirit of the Kelly administration. How can we do more? How can we think outside of the box? How can we set ourselves apart? This is what we mean when we say Kansas approaches economic development differently.”
The seven guiding principles were how can we contribute to society, how can we be fair and honest, a sense of cooperation and team spirit, how can we improve the business’ ability to contribute, practice courtesy and humility, the ability to adapt and how can they show gratitude.
Toland said they were so grateful and could feel the weight of the trust with Panasonic.
“We believe building relationships will benefit the company and the state,” he said.
Toland said they want to keep kids in Kansas and in order to do so the State has to provide the right economic opportunities.
“The State overcame inertia that has stymied progress in Kansas too long,” he said.
Toland said when Panasonic visited the site in December they had to fight high winds and wildfires.
“It was like the Wild, Wild West,” he said.
Wednesday was no different, as Megan Myungwon Lee, chair and CEO of Panasonic North America, fought to speak to the crowd through high winds and the monthly state tornado siren test.
Lee said it was clear to her the region was committed to the project.
“From the moment I stepped foot in Kansas, it was clear to me that De Soto and the region have been blessed with organizations who are committed to making a positive impact and creating a new opportunities for communities,” she said.
Allan Swan, president of Panasonic Energy of North America, said Kansas stood out from more than 100 sites across more than a dozen states. He said he loved the enthusiasm, trust and “warm community” among the people he met and the location made business sense.
“Kansas is full of people who work together for the common good,” he said. “There’s not many places—remember, we looked at over a dozen states—there’s not many places where there’s a nonpartisan approach that you all have done for this project.”
Swan said it was about a journey of future prosperity  for the area and Panasonic looked forward to being part of the community for a long, long time.