Way to go, Wamego

By The Mercury

Congratulations, Wamego! Winning 120 jobs — manufacturing jobs at that — is quite an accomplishment, one that will benefit the city, Pottawatomie County and, though less directly, the Manhattan area.

As the Mercury reported Friday, the jobs involve an expansion of the Caterpillar Work Tools plant in the form of a new 40,000-square-foot building; that will increase the plant’s total size to almost 250,000 square feet. The jobs won’t all materialize at once, but when fully staffed, Caterpillar in Wamego will have more than 500 employees.

Not surprisingly, local and state officials are delighted. Said Bob Cole, director of the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation: “We are very excited about Caterpillar’s decision to locate their latest plant expansion in Wamego. It will add excellent new employment opportunities in Wamego and our surrounding region and build on manufacturing, which is one of Pottawatomie County’s biggest strengths.”

Workers at Wamego’s Caterpillar plant manufacture buckets, blades and other tools that go into machines used all over the world. Caterpillar is among the world’s leading makers of construction and mining equipment, as well as diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. The company, based in Peoria, Ill., expects to spend about $3 billion this year on capital projects, about half of which, including the expansion in Wamego, will be in the United States.

Although we’d like to think Wamego and Pott County have enough going for them to attract these jobs, the State of Kansas deserves an assist. Collaborators included the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Department of Transportation. Department of Commerce incentives in the form of the PEAK Program (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) and other economic development programs are possible, and KDOT is offering up to $1.25 million in additional incentives. The latter will include both road and rail improvements and a preliminary study that could result in the eventual reconstruction of K-99 from Wamego to I-70.

As for the local contribution, Wamego and Pott County offered almost $1.2 million in land and infrastructure improvements. Any such investment is a calculated risk, but Caterpillar is a known and appreciated quantity. Wamego has been good for Caterpillar, and it’s good to see Caterpillar reciprocating.

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