DE SOTO, Kan. — Massive construction vehicles are working in De Soto, Kansas to build Panasonic’s new electric vehicle battery plant, city leaders are preparing to reach out to the public to get their input on how the community should grow while maintaining the charm that made people move there in the first place.
“We need a reset, not just up here at City Hall, but the whole community needs a reset discussion on how do we want to manage this incredible opportunity that’s in front of us,” said De Soto City Administrator Mike Brungardt.
Late last year, FOX4 went to Reno, Nevada to see how that community handled the challenges that came from Tesla and Panasonic’s Gigafactory plant a few years go.
One of the main issues that persists years later in Reno is a lack of affordable housing. New construction is going up as fast as it can and yet rents are rising, and the average cost of a house jumped roughly $200,000 in just two years.
“The pressure’s there to make sure we get it right,” said De Soto Mayor Rick Walker. “To the point of housing, we’ve been working on housing for a long time, even before we knew about Panasonic.”
Walker says they were able to add some units but with Panasonic’s plant being built, which will lead to more investment and more jobs nearby, the demand is only going to increase.
It’s why the city is helping cut down on the cost to build affordable housing by being willing to change code around minimum parking requirements for apartments or the distance needed between homes, making it easier for builders to make dense communities.
“Some of those policies really run counter to walkability and livability and quality of life that you really want in a community,” Brungardt said.
A mile and a half from Panasonic’s plant is a small army of heavy construction vehicles getting ready to build what will become the Flint Commerce Center on more than 300 acres of land.
That site could also hold a few massive industrial buildings that could somehow be linked to the Panasonic building down the road.
“It’s very possible, and I think likely, that there’s additional interest in that development now that there wouldn’t have been before,” Brungardt said.
He points out that the demand for that space is already large and it just happened to come together around the same time that Panasonic was announcing its massive investment down the road.
“If we hadn’t had Panasonic, Flint [Commerce Center] would have been the biggest deal we ever had,” said Walker.
Brungardt says what’s now farmland on the road that connects the Flint site to Panasonic’s is already being eyed by develops who are crunching numbers about how profitable construction there could be.
“They’re all running their pro formats, whether it’s an apartment complex, or a convenience store, or a hotel, or an entertainment center, and those numbers got a lot better when there’s 4,000 people working directly adjacent,” Brungardt said.