U.S. transportation secretary visits Kansas, gives speech at future Panasonic plant site

U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said the De Soto electric vehicle battery project shows importance of U.S. manufacturing

By: - February 27, 2023 3:51 pm
U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks Feb. 27, 2023, at the future Panasonic plant site in De Soto

U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks Feb. 27, 2023, at the future Panasonic plant site in De Soto. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

DE SOTO — Surrounded by local and national leaders, U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg pointed to the Panasonic project as an example of rural revitalization through green energy transportation projects.

Buttigieg, along with Lt. Governor David Toland and U.S. Representative Sharice Davids, among others, gave speeches Monday at the site of the future Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto, following his attendance at the Kansas City, Missouri, airport terminal opening.

Buttigieg said rural communities across America have struggled with a lack of job opportunities, influencing young people to move elsewhere for careers.

“So many people in so many communities, in places like Indiana, in places like Kansas, grew up with the message in recent decades that the only way to succeed was to get out,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said new electric vehicle manufacturing jobs like Panasonic would reverse the trend, and jobs were coming back in states like Kansas, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee. 

“This really is a new and stronger era for American manufacturing,” Buttigieg said.

Panasonic is a major multinational conglomerate, and the battery facility in De Soto — population 6,000 — is expected to produce cutting edge high-capacity vehicle batteries. Kansas secured a deal for the $4 billion battery manufacturing facility after Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration and the Kansas Legislature put together Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion, an $829.2 million financial incentive package for major businesses known as APEX.

Construction is under way on the Panasonic electric vehicle battery production plant in De Soto
Construction is under way on the Panasonic electric vehicle battery production plant in De Soto. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

The De Soto facility will employ about 4,000 workers with an average hourly wage of $30 and create an estimated additional 4,000 jobs in the region.

Toland, who also serves as Kansas commerce secretary, said the Panasonic build is already changing the Kansas economy. He compared the impact of the plant to Kansas’ aviation sector industry back when Kansas was an aerospace industry leader.

Toland said the influx of Panasonic jobs and other business could keep young professionals from leaving the state, a significant problem in recent years.

“For too many years, our talent pipeline has pumped our young people out of state to Austin or Nashville or Denver,” Toland said. “We have been taking our best asset, our talented young people, and exporting them at a deficit. That’s not sustainable. But it was happening, in part, because we didn’t have the right economic opportunities here for our young people.”

Kelly has prioritized economic development, especially in rural areas, during her time as governor. The financial incentive project that attracted Panasonic also helped the state land a $1.8 billion expansion of a Wichita computer chip manufacturer

Toland said the projects have put Kansas on better footing for the future.

“We have bent the curve and changed the trajectory of the state of Kansas for the better,” Toland said.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.