DE SOTO, Kan. — De Soto City leaders say they’re getting a better idea for where workers and the homes they’ll live in will be when the Panasonic Electric Vehicle Battery Plant opens around 2025.
The plant is expected to eventually employ about 4,000 people with advanced manufacturing skills inside the plant with another 4,000 people taking similar or related jobs outside the facility.
De Soto City Administrator Mike Brungardt says the region has about 107,000 of those workers already, with more than 60,000 within a commutable drive of De Soto.
He says that means even when the plant starts to hire workers before its 2025 launch, experts don’t think there will be an immediate rush in the housing market.
“That demand doesn’t come day one,” Brungardt said. “That worker will take the job at Panasonic because it’s a step up from his position now and he’ll commute those 30-45 minutes for a time. That could be two or three years.”
That gradual hiring and existing labor force, coupled with the fact that the Kansas City region already has a number of construction companies building new homes and apartment all over makes Brungardt confident that De Soto won’t run into similar issues that Reno, Nevada experienced when Tesla and Panasonic opened its Gigafactory there.
FOX4 visited that community and found the cost of living skyrocketed partially due to a lack of space to build new construction, and a rapid increase in worker population.
“This won’t be this massive impact on the labor force and similarly it won’t be a dramatic impact on the housing availability,” said Brungardt. “We’re still going to have the affordability issue though.”
There are already roughly 2,500 apartments in the pipeline to be built around De Soto. Even if not all those projects end up happening, it will drastically increase the number of housing units already in the city.
The challenge is what Brungardt and housing experts call the ‘missing middle.”
“What used to be known as the ‘starter house,’ that $150,000 to $200,000 range [home,]” said Brungardt. “Realistically, it’s impossible to build a house for that, at least in Johnson County.”
That challenge falls to people like Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City Executive Vice President Will Ruder, who points out that more single-family home permits only recently started to be pulled in the region after a short slowdown at the end of 2022 and into early 2023.
He says the issue is that rising interest rates kept new buyers on the sidelines, until they realized rates weren’t going to go down soon. That’s compounded by the fact that existing homebuyers likely have very favorable rates compared to what is available now, so they aren’t likely to move.
“Many of those buyers that would be perhaps inclined to move every five, six, seven years depending on their own appetite are staying put because it’s going to be hard to convince those existing homeowner in favor of something that’s six percent or above,” Ruder said.
That is forcing newly constructed homes to play a huge role while Johnson County continues to be one of the fastest growing areas in the region even two years before the Panasonic Plant opens.
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“Historically, new home construction has accounted for about 10% of active listings,” Ruder said. “Today, that’s 43%.”
Ruder and Brungardt say it’s still too early for the Panasonic Plant to be driving projects that are under construction now. Those units will need to be built closer to when new residents will be ready to buy them.