Tonganoxie approves agreement with Hill’s Pet Nutrition for plant at business park
Tonganoxie A $250 million pet food facility billed as Leavenworth County’s largest capital manufacturing investment gained initial approval Monday in Tonganoxie.
The Hill’s Pet Nutrition plant is a proposed site of at least 300,000 square feet for manufacturing of wet pet food products.
Tonganoxie City Council members approved, 5-0, authorization of a development agreement with Hill’s that includes a 10-year 100% tax abatement and an elevated water tower. The city of Tonganoxie will cover the $2 million price tag of the water tower under the agreement.
In return, Hill’s will purchase an average minimum of 3 million gallons of water monthly and its “best efforts to ensure that at least 20% of the workforce will be Tonganoxie residents.” Average salary for the anticipated 80 new jobs the company is expected to generate in the coming years is just more than $60,000.That minimum water requirement also is expected to cover any debt service incurred for the tower.
Hill’s announced Friday its intent to invest $250 million in a new factory in Leavenworth County about 40 miles along the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor from its global headquarters in Topeka.
Additional steps will need to take place in the coming weeks for the project to come to fruition, including a preliminary development plans and a plat at the July 1 planning commission meeting. After that, the council will need to consider those plans, a final plat and hold a public hearing to consider an economic development exemptions tax abatement.
According to a release from Hill’s, the Kansas company chose the site based on location, access to workforce, a strong and welcoming community and proximity to distributors and suppliers.
Jesper Nordengaard, President of Hill's Pet Nutrition, a division of the Colgate-Palmolive Company, gave a presentation during Monday’s council meeting.
He spoke of the company’s history dating back nearly 80 years and showed a company video highlighting the company’s products, charitable efforts and environmental sustainability. Initial renderings of the project also gave more information about the Tonganoxie project specifically at Tonganoxie Business Park.
Steve Ashley, a former member of Tonganoxie Planning Commission, voiced concerns about the project, including the news of the project being announced a few days ago, saying it was reminiscent of an announced plan for Tyson Foods to build a poultry facility south of Tonganoxie.a few years ago.He also worried that many jobs would be well below that average salary Hill’s officials cited.
City Manager George Brajkovic said the Tonganoxie school district and the state would still receive 20 mills and 1.5 mills annually during the 10-year tax abatement through held harmless provisions.
Brajkovic estimated that would translate to $2 million in taxes for USD 464 during the coming decade, though he stressed that was just a projection.
Gov. Laura Kelly weighed in on the proposed plant and the importance of the local health corridor through a press release Friday.
“With our central location, talented workforce and reputation as a global leader in animal health and science, our partnership with Hill’s is a no-brainer,” Kelly said.
The KC Animal Center Corridor contains 300 animal health companies that represent 56% of total worldwide health, diagnostics and pet food sales, accruing the corridor’s website. The corridor stretches along I-70 with anchors in Manhattan to the west and Columbia, Mo., to the east.
The factory would mark the second tenant at Tonganoxie Business Park, which spans 135 acres roughly 2.5 miles north of I-70.
Chicago-based Unilock, a outdoor landscaping company offering products such as pavers, outdoor fireplaces and grills, built a facility at the park after agreeing on a contract with the city in 2018. Unilock covers 34 acres at the business park. Though not part of the business park, a 31,600-square-foot Army Reserve Center stands to the west across U.S. Highway 24-40 on 19 acres. It was completed in 2018.
The project, if all steps are approved, is expected to begin later this year and be competed by 2023.
"This looks like a fantastic smart-growth project for our community," said David Frese, Tonganoxie mayor. "It checks a bunch of the right boxes. A Kansas company; an environmentally up-to-date facility; a manageable influx of new neighbors; great jobs that pay well; high-tech opportunities for our young people; the possibility of attracting more business to Tonganoxie; and a boon to the city's economy.”
Hill’s expects to have 80 employees at the facility by 2025.
The pet food company currently has manufacturing sites in Topeka and Emporia, as well as Bowling Green, Ky., and Richmond, Ind.
"We are thrilled to welcome a quality company like Hill's Pet Nutrition to Tonganoxie, said Steve Jack, executive director with Leavenworth County Development Corporation. “This project will represent the largest capital investment ever made by a manufacturer in Leavenworth County.”
The announcement comes nearly four years after Tyson Foods and then-Gov. Sam Brownback announced plans for a $320 million poultry plant expected to employ 1,600 people, but the Arkansas-based company put the plant on hold amid backlash from local residents that grabbed national attention.
Tyson later announced it would not pursue the plant plans near Tonganoxie. Since then, the poultry company found a new site in western Tennessee. Humboldt, Tenn., a community of 8,000, will be home to a $425 million poultry facility, the company announced in April.
— Linenberger is editor at The Mirror newspaper in Tonganoxie.