Big ambitions, high-fives and the EV revolution: Kansas leaders celebrate Panasonic plant

By: - July 14, 2022 11:26 am
Kris Takamoto, the executive vice president of Panasonic's North America division, says the company is proud of its innovations, "but those technologies will have little opportunity to improve people's life if we don't also protect our environment." (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kris Takamoto, the executive vice president of Panasonic’s North America division, says the company is proud of its innovations, “but those technologies will have little opportunity to improve people’s life if we don’t also protect our environment.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran was eager to get back to Washington, D.C., after the announcement Wednesday night that Panasonic would partner with Kansas to “power the revolution” of electric vehicles.

He joined Gov. Laura Kelly and other officials who celebrated the announcement at the Townsite Tower ballroom in downtown Topeka, where they addressed a crowd of more than 200 politicians, lobbyists and business leaders.

“I’m anxious to return to Washington, D.C., because I’m going to experience a pat on the back, the handshake, the high five,” Moran said. “And it’s something I think our state has missed out on too often.”

With an $829.2 million incentive package and bipartisan enthusiasm, Kansas persuaded Panasonic to build a $4 billion vehicle battery manufacturing plant in De Soto. The facility will employ 4,000 workers with an average hourly wage of $30 and create an estimated 4,000 more jobs for suppliers and businesses in the region.

“Innovations happening right here in Kansas will accelerate the future of electric vehicles on a global scale,” Kelly said. “We will be the production epicenter for batteries that will power the increasing demand for EVs and a more sustainable world.”

Moran said one of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic was the need for more manufacturing production in the United States. Panasonic’s investment is important for the country as well as Kansas, he said.

“This helps make us less dependent upon China,” Moran said. “It improves our job capabilities, and increases our national security. But to see my colleagues read in the Wall Street Journal, or see in the national news, that Kansas was selected, it highlights for me that places in this country that have been thought to be the most desirable have become a lot less so than Kansas, and we’ve been found.”

 

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran addresses a crowd gathered in downtown Topeka for the announcement that Panasonic will build a $4 billion vehicle battery plant in De Soto. Moran said the news will bring recognition to Kansas. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran addresses a crowd gathered in downtown Topeka for the announcement that Panasonic will build a $4 billion vehicle battery plant in De Soto. Moran said the news will bring recognition to Kansas. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

‘Critical production capacity’

Kris Takamoto, the executive vice president of Panasonic’s North America division, said the facility in De Soto will expand battery production in the U.S. “at a time when the automotive industry is reinventing itself, and more batteries for EVs are desperately needed.”

Panasonic, Takamoto said, is “literally powering the revolution in the shift to electric vehicles.”

“With the people of Kansas, we will provide critical production capacity to one of the fastest-growing and most exciting industries in the world,” Takamoto said.

The investment is also part of the company’s strategy to reduce Co2 emissions to net zero by 2030 and build products that are more energy efficient.

Takamoto said Panasonic emits 2.2 million tons of Co2 annually as a result of its business operations. Emissions from the company’s supply chain are estimated to be more than 110 million tons, or 1% of the total emissions from global electricity consumption, Takamoto said.

“We are proud of our innovations,” Takamoto said. “But those technologies will have little opportunity to improve people’s life if we don’t also protect our environment.”

 

Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as commerce secretary, says the state has shifted its focus from recruiting companies across a state line to recruiting companies across the international dateline. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as commerce secretary, says the state has shifted its focus from recruiting companies across a state line to recruiting companies across the international dateline. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

‘Compete with anyone’

Commerce secretary and Lt. Gov. David Toland said the governor outlined her vision for economic development when she took office three years ago.

“At the highest level, the governor’s directive meant that we would ground ourselves in the principle that economic development is about people — that young people shouldn’t have to leave our state after graduation for better economic opportunities in Dallas or Denver or Nashville, that people should know what incentives the state invested in the new company that’s coming to their town, that people should see real growth, not just companies moving a few blocks or a couple of miles.”

The administration’s framework for economic growth focused on quality of life, which led to historic investments in broadband and rural main streets.

Toland said he rebuilt his agency’s staff with “top-notch” professionals from the state and across the country, and reinvested in international recruitment.

“We shifted our focus from recruiting companies across a state line to recruiting companies across the international dateline,” Toland said. “And most importantly, the governor said that in the Kelly administration, we will not play small ball.”

The approach helped the state secure billions of dollars in new business investments in addition to the Panasonic deal.

“It’s clear Kansas is no longer an ‘aw shucks,’ humble sort of flyover state,” Toland said. “We can compete with anyone.”

 

Gov. Laura Kelly answers reporters’ questions following her announcement of the Panasonic deal on July 13, 2022, at the Townsite Tower ballroom in downtown Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

‘Create better lives’

Kelly, who grew up in a military family that moved around the world, told the crowd she wanted to share something that might surprise them.

She lived in Japan, she said, when she was very young, and her first language was actually Japanese.

The governor then stumbled through an attempt to deliver a message in Japanese — “I was saying this so well,” she said — before introducing Takamoto.

“You know, governor, your Japanese was perfect,” Takamoto said.

Kelly praised the cooperation between local governments, legislators, higher education institutions, utility partners, the congressional delegation and diplomatic teams that helped bring the deal together to build a facility big enough to transform

the surrounding area, and even the entire state.

The state expects new jobs created as a result of this plant to generate $500 million in annual income, “helping more Kansas families create better lives for themselves and for their children,” Kelly said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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