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  • Thursday, May 16, 2019 8:08 AM | Anonymous

    The Independence EDC Board of Directors has elected Tom Waters to serve as Chairman of the Board for a two-year term starting on July 1st

     Tom was previously served as Vice Chairman and is the owner of Corporate  CopyPrint on the Independence Square.  Mr. Waters will be replacing Dr. Jason Snodgrass of the Fort Osage School District who will be concluding his term at the end of June.  Also elected as officers were Steve Mauer with the Mauer Law Firm who will fill the role of Vice Chair, Bob Glaser with Community America Bank as Secretary and Greg Finke with the Independence School District will serve as Treasurer.  

    New officers and Board members will be formally introduced at the EDC Annual Meeting on Friday, June 21st.

  • Sunday, March 03, 2019 8:17 PM | Anonymous

    For economic development organizations, progress is the measuring stick by which success is determined. In Independence, it is no different for the Independence Council for Economic Development.

    While our mission has not changed over the 35 years this organization has existed, the methods and strategies have changed drastically. The ultimate goal is to make sure our residents have the best opportunity at economic success and that employers have an environment that they thrive, grow and be profitable.

    The EDC always sets annual goals for progress/growth, but a few years ago we added some long-term priorities that we felt were important to measure. We looked at past data and then built some stretch goals that we felt were attainable, albeit not easily attainable within the timeframe allotted. It was going to take some work by everyone in the community to make it happen.

    The first goal was raising median household income. From the period of 2000 to 2013, median income increased by 8.7 percent. While this period did include a severe economic downturn and higher unemployment rates, it wasn’t on par with other regional communities that saw higher rates of growth. As a result, many families struggled to keep up with the rising cost of living and revenues that support public services such as police, fire, streets, and parks saw a drop that took seven years to recover back to previous levels between 2007 and 2014.

    In 2015, the EDC Board of Directors set a goal of reaching a figure of $50,000 in median household income by the year 2020. This would mean that we would need to achieve 13 percent growth in a five-year period as we came off a period in which we only saw less than 9 percent growth in the 13 previous years. Last year, we achieved our goal two years ahead of schedule as we reached a level of $50,122.

    So how did we see such minimal income growth for 13 years and then alter the growth curve so substantially? I think the answer to the first part of that question is a result of lost focus on what really drives economic development success.

    If you look back at the early 2000s, Independence was very focused on enhancing the retail areas around the Interstate 70 corridor. We used tax incentives to overcome some barriers to development, but we traded away the financial resources we needed to provide public services. The good news is that many of those tax incentives have started to expire and will continue to do so over the next decade, and that will bring new revenue dollars to our schools and other public services funded by sales taxes.

    The influx of retail also created new employment opportunities, but retail jobs won’t grow your median household income. The number one employment sector in Independence is service, but that sector is also among the lowest paying jobs in a community. While it is necessary and vital to have retail and service amenities to serve residents, you don’t want to put all your eggs in that basket.

    So what changed in the last few years? I think the biggest change is focusing on what our employment priorities are going to be. It kicked off with the effort to retain the Unilever manufacturing facility on 35th Street. After the sale of the WishBone brand, this facility was on the brink of closure.

    Working with Unilever officials, we developed a plan to support the expansion of the plant to support a new product line. It helped us retain over 200 jobs and they have since added another 100 jobs. At the time of the expansion, average wage levels were over $40,000 per year, and those types of jobs will move the needle on median household income.

    Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) continues to hire at Lake City at a wage above regional averages for manufacturing. We also continue to work with other existing companies like Ronson Manufacturing as they expand their operations. We still have much work to do if we want to continue our momentum to grow and attract advanced manufacturing.

    Less than 3 percent of industrial space is vacant, but we’ve been unable to attract new speculative industrial construction and that is a top priority right now. While land in the Little Blue Valley is vast, so is the flood plain, which either limits our ability to develop or makes the cost prohibitive without substantial incentives to offset the costs to mitigate.

    We are also faced with the challenge that every community is dealing with, and that is workforce. Jobs that used to be very manual-labor-oriented have now shifted to being very mechanized. Even the word labor has become outdated as we’ve shifted from physical exertion to mental capacity because not only do today’s workers have to run the machines, many times they need to be able to program them as well. Success in the next few years may very well be measured by how prepared we are to prepare and train our workforce for the jobs of the future.

    In the end, community success isn’t measured by numbers on a spreadsheet. It is measured by the quality of life citizens enjoy. To be able to support their families, to have reliable transportation to get to work, and having that extra income to enjoy a night out occasionally. When we are successful at that, we all win.

  • Saturday, March 02, 2019 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    From the Examiner - Corbin Kottman

    Six years have brought significant growth to Children’s Mercy East, with the medical center seeing a first year’s 24,000 visits grow to a steady 76,000 per year. In response, the hospital has announced plans to renovate the first floor of their operation, providing much-needed space for the children and staff.

    Cheryl Melton, director of Children’s Mercy East, said executives anticipated the growth when the building was constructed, however the speed in which the renovation has become necessary was a surprise.

    “We already knew we were going to expand over the course of time. We kind of already had that grand plan; we just didn’t know we were going to have to expand so quickly,” she said.

    Children’s Mercy East currently operates under a shared space, as Melton described it, with only one patient-care area, the speciality clinics and urgent care operating in the same space. Once the renovation of the first floor is completed, Urgent Care will move there, and the second floor will be dedicated to speciality clinics.

    The new first floor will feature 21 urgent care exam rooms, with two large procedure rooms, and specialized doors for transporting patients in an emergency. With more space, the second floor will have 20 exam rooms dedicated to specialty care and expanded clinic hours, which means less wait time for families.

    The total project cost is stated to be $5 million. Melton, along with hospital board member Tom Weir, confirmed the faciluty has also received a Mabee Foundation grant, which will contribute $1 million if Children’s Mercy can raise the rest of the funds by Oct. 1. Melton said they are approximately $800,000 from their goal.

    “We are very lucky the Eastern Jackson County community has embraced us,” she said. “We’re very optimistic they will continue to do so.”

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2019 10:25 AM | Anonymous

    By Mike Genet - The Examiner

    Ronson Machine and Manufacturing is aiming to relocate in Independence to the former Kmart building on U.S. 24 in the Susquehanna area.

    The sheet metal manufacturer, founded in 1976, employs more than 80 people and currently operates in a 50,000-square foot facility at 3000 Jackson Drive, just north of R.D. Mize Road near Little Blue Parkway. It also leases about 55,000 square feet of space in the Geospace Center caves for storage.

    The Planning Commission last week unanimously recommended rezoning the old Kmart, which closed last year, from general commercial to service commercial, which permits light manufacturing and warehousing. The City Council is scheduled to have a first reading for the rezoning Jan. 22 and could approve it Feb. 4.

    Kyle Carver, whose father owns the company, said Ronson is about three times the size of what it was in 1989, when his father Terry became owner, and has slowly added employees. It could add a few after the proposed move.

    “We’re at a crossroads and need to be under one roof,” he said, adding that he saw the empty building of a former big box retailer and “thought this could be a win-win.”

    Howard Levy, representing the company that owns the building, said they had reached out to numerous retailers to see if they had any interest in moving into the facility. Kmart’s portion of the building is nearly 97,000 square feet.

    Responding to questions about noise and possible traffic, Carver said sheet metal manufacturing makes less noise than decades ago, and Ronson doesn’t reach federal thresholds requiring ear protection inside its own building. With employees working in shifts, he said, most movement from Ronson would take place to during non-peak traffic times.

    Doug Goodwin, a supervisor at Ronson, said the company hasn’t received any noise complaints at its current manufacturing facility, which has a proximity to homes similar to the Kmart the location, if not closer.

    Kati Horner, the city of Independence’s traffic engineer, said Ronson’s possible move shouldn’t stress traffic too much in the area. Being that U.S. 24 is a state highway, a stoplight at the area’s entrance would be at the discretion of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

    Council Member Curt Dougherty, whose district includes that lot, said another retailer occupant was not realistic and Ronson moving in would be an “uptick” in the neighborhood and good for the city.

    “Other cities were all trying to lure them away,” he said.

  • Monday, January 07, 2019 10:29 AM | Anonymous

    By Mike Genet - The Examiner

    Cargo Largo wants to consolidate its operations and build a 463,000-square foot facility just north of the current store on 35th Street in Independence.

    If approved, the facility on currently vacant land west of Noland Road would have a new store, corporate headquarters and warehousing to accommodate Cargo Largo’s growth in e-commerce, and it could add more than 200 full-time jobs. All told, the project is budgeted at about $40.5 million, according to city documents.

    A first reading for the preliminary development plan is scheduled for tonight’s City Council meeting. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plan last month.

    Cargo Largo had hoped to build the facility on the same land starting in 2008, and the Union Pacific Railroad put in rail crossing lights just off Noland Road directly across from Truman High School, but the building plans got shelved due to recession.

    If approved, several details would still need to be ironed out before construction, such as possible economic incentives and extending Weatherford Road and Lynn Court between 31st and 35th streets. The railroad crossing would be part of a new 33rd Street. According to city documents, tractor-trailer traffic would access the site from 35th Street, not the new 33rd Street.

  • Sunday, December 30, 2018 9:27 PM | Anonymous

    The economic growth of Independence continued on an upswing during 2018 according to new data released by the Independence Economic Development Council.

    "The success of our economic development efforts can be directly measured through some common indicators that we track and monitor" said Tom Lesnak, Independence EDC President.  Among some of the highlights for the year:

    • Median household income exceeded the 2020 goal of $50,000 two years early.
    • The current unemployment rate is at 2.9% which is at a historic low.
    • The number of Independence residents who are employed has increased by 2,318 since the start of the year.
    • The latest population estimates show an increase of 6.2% since the 2010 census and currently stands at 121,018.
    • EDC staff responded to over 850 requests for business assistance.

    "We will continue to work on strategies that continue to enhance our economy with a focus in 2019 on workforce skills enhancement and development of new light industrial spaces and the enhanced employment opportunities that those types of companies can provide to our residents" said Lesnak.

    X X X

    Data sources: MERIC, ESRI

  • Friday, December 07, 2018 9:25 AM | Anonymous

    California-based Black Bear Diner has been spreading to the Midwest with more than a dozen locations set to open in the next year, including one in Independence.

    The new metro location is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter, just south of the new Lion’s Choice at South Little Blue Parkway and Interstate 70.

    The menu includes chicken fried steak, chicken apple sausage, corned beef hash, specialty omelets and scrambles, pancakes, waffles, French toast, a variety of Benedicts, breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, pecan-crusted trout, chicken pot pie, slow-cooked pot roast, house-made meat loaf and steaks.

    The entire menu is served all day so customers can order pot roast at 8 a.m. or pancakes at 8 p.m.

    A California restaurant chain known for its homestyle comfort food is heading to the Kansas City metro, The Kansas City Star reports.

    Black Bear Diner plans to open a restaurant in Independence near Lion's Choice. It features a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options such as the Bigfoot chicken fried steak and eggs; burgers and sandwiches such as The Gobbler which features roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce; prime rib; homestyle fried chicken; housemade meatloaf and slow-cooked pot roast. 

    Founded in 1995, Black Bear Diner has grown to 118 locations in 11 states.

  • Friday, December 07, 2018 9:22 AM | Anonymous

    The new Aspen Dental office at 3901 South Bolger Drive expands dental care access in the Independence community when it opens on Thurs., Dec. 13. The office is located in Jackson County – which has been designated as a dental health professional shortage area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    Read the complete story from the Kansas City Business Journal

  • Wednesday, December 05, 2018 9:30 AM | Anonymous

    From the Kansas City Business Journal - James Dornbrook

    A new distillery being planned in Independence is led by an engineer and an attorney who created and patented a process called "Endless Aging."

    Dennis Evans, an engineer in Lee's Summit, teamed up with Nashville attorney John Whitfield to found Evansfield Distillery. They're putting together the distillery at 13621 E. 42nd Terrace S., which is southwest of Interstate 70 and Noland Road. The plan is open in early 2019 and release rum and whiskey from its tasting room as soon as it opens.

    The Evansfield spirits will be unique due to the patented "Endless Aging" process, which involves placing a wooden medallion in each bottle to age the whiskey.

    "It's a whole new road to travel for manufacturing whiskey," Whitfield said. "It has been an engineering headache to figure out how to get the medallion into the bottle with the spirit. Dennis is an engineer and created a two-piece bottle, designed for the medallion to sit upright. We put the medallion in, put the bottle together, fill it with spirit and seal the bottle for sale. We're also putting a filter in the neck to catch any particles when you pour it."

    A new kind of 'oaking'

    Distillers have been using wood chips, dowels and other products and processes to speed up the aging process for about 100 years. It's a technique known as "oaking." However, it's never been offered in a commercial format the way Evansfield is planning, where the wood stays in the bottle to allow the consumer to determine whether the oaking process continues or not.

    Adding a charred wooden medallion to the bottle gives the spirit a golden color and has a mellowing effect. The process happens much faster than the traditional method of aging in a charred oak barrel because more of the spirit is in contact with the wood. Whitfield said the process is designed for one week of oaking with a medallion to equal about one year of traditional barrel aging.

    Aside from being faster, wood aging in an airtight bottle doesn't lose any spirit to evaporation. Barrels aren't airtight, which results in evaporation, a process commonly known as the Angels Cut. There is a trade-off, though. Bottle aging isn't affected by the changing seasons like barrels are, where the shift between cold and hot weather pushes the spirit into and out of the staves of the barrel slowly, imparting sugars from the wood and allowing the chemical reactions to happen more naturally.

    Slow-roasted ... wood?

    But Evansfield developed advanced methods to overcome the traditional issues with bottle oaking. For one, it isn't charring the wood — it's roasting it.

    "I always wondered why people spend so much time perfecting their recipes only to throw it in a burnt barrel," Evans said. "Think about putting bread in a toaster. The reason you like that toast brown is because the grains convert to sugar and caramelize, giving you nice flavors. If you burn the toast, you probably wouldn't eat it."

    Evans started studying the process for roasting coffee beans. He learned that the reason beans are roasted slowly is to crack the structures holding the sugars, allowing them to leach out, then more heat is added to caramelize it.

    "So we put our wood in an oven and roast it slowly to open up the fibers and caramelize them slowly," Evans said "Then we soak the wood to open the grains and release the cellulose structures. That's how we get to the structures that hold sugars better. Instead of burning those sugars, we're slowly releasing the sugars and then caramelizing them."

    Evansfield plans to let its bottles sit about three weeks before releasing them, and will date the bottles so buyers know how long each has been aging. Evansfield also plans to offer a variety of wood medallions for aging, which will create subtle differences in the flavor.

    "What makes it unique is that the medallion gives us flexibility to experiment with different wood types that most whiskey producers aren't able to use," Evans said. "The reason they can't use them is because some of the woods aren't as dense as oak and you end up with a barrel that leaks all the time."

    Reusable products

    Another unique aspect of bottle aging is that once the bottle is emptied, it can be reused. The medallion will work several more times, so customers can buy unaged whiskey from Evansfield, refill the bottle and start the process all over again.

    Evansfield will offer several whiskey varieties: A corn-based mash in the style of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels; a blend of corn and rye; a rye whiskey; a moonshine sold at 140 proof; and a spiced rum that will be aged and seasoned in-house.

    Evansfield will start out selling spirits from its tasting room and then work on getting products into bars, restaurants and stores throughout the Kansas City area. The price hasn't been set yet, but it probably will be in the $35-a-bottle range.

    "We're confident the reception will be good," Whitfield said.

  • Friday, November 30, 2018 7:32 AM | Anonymous

    From the Examiner By Bill Althaus 

    Mark Acton didn’t need to look at the menu for the new Lion’s Choice sandwich shop, at 4049 S. Little Blue Parkway in Independence.

    “When you come to Lion’s Choice,” the Independence resident said, “you order roast beef – the best roast beef.”

    His wife Lynnette nodded in agreement.

    “I wanted to look at the menu, because they offer a lot more choices than I expected,” Lynnette said, “but I got roast beef – and it is delicious.”

    Lion’s Choice CEO Mike Kupstas grinned at their comments.

    Mike Kupstas, the CEO of Lion’s Choice, says the new location in Independence should do well. The company, based in St. Louis and favorite there for decades, is moving into the Kansas City market. 

    “We hear that all the time,” said Kupstas, who found out that Mike Acton discovered Lion’s Choice when he called St. Louis home for five years. “Our roast beef is ridiculously good – but I hope they will try some of our other menu items, too.”

    The restaurant opened this week. Hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with breakfast served from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and lunch from 10 a.m. until close. The company also is opening a site on 135th Street in Olathe.

    As he glanced around the restaurant, which did not have an empty table on this busy Tuesday night, Kupstas talked about the reason for expanding from St. Louis to Independence.

    “This was just a natural location,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve visited guests in our St. Louis stores who drove up from the Kansas City area to fill their car with our great sandwiches.”

    “Well, now we’re saving them that trip.”

    Lion’s Choice was founded in 1967 by a group of friends who wanted to open a quick-serve restaurant that offered an alternative to the burger chains. The first store was in Ballwin, Mo.

    “They wanted to provide a healthy alternative, the type of roast beef that Mom would cook at home,” Kupstas said. “We slow roast our roast beef three hours. We go through a three-step process with our french fries that includes brining, blanching and cooking them, and they are special.”

    The Independence restaurant is one of the first locations to serve breakfast, and also features a display for breakfast pastries and grab-and-go items.

    It also has a food truck that grabbed the attention of the Actons and many other patrons.

    “I saw the food truck on Noland Road and was so excited when I found out that Lion’s Choice was coming to Independence,” Mark Acton said.

    That’s just the response District manager Rick Orf was hoping for.

    “We had the food truck at First Fridays in downtown Kansas City when it was 103 degrees, and it was worth every minute,” said Orf.

    “We believe we are going to make a real impact in Independence and the Kansas City area.”

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To support the economic growth of Independence through the creation of new employment opportunities and the attraction of private capital investment.

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