DE SOTO, Kan. — While elected leaders across the state of Kansas celebrate Panasonic’s announcement that it will build a new electric vehicle battery factory in De Soto, residents are getting used to the idea that big development is finally happening nearby whether they like it or not.
“It’s a really small town, it’s really quaint,” said De Soto resident Jeffrey James. “Everybody knows everybody. It’s “Cheers” with a stop sign.”
James and his neighbors will have to find a lot of new barstools to pull up.
Panasonic is investing $4 billion in the plant, which will directly employ 4,000 people. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly estimates that there will be another 4,000 jobs created in a wide range of other industries as companies move to do business with Panasonic, and the community expands to support the new plant. De Soto’s population is only a little higher than 6,000 itself.
Some business owners were excited at the prospect of more foot traffic while others wondered where a huge increase in travelers will park along the relatively limited main commercial district.
James figures a big project near the old Sunflower Ammunition Plant was inevitable.
“It’s a big piece of land that needs to be developed and we understand that,” James said. “Nothing is always going to remain the same.”
Kansas Congresswoman Sharice Davids said a bipartisan group of lawmakers make the pitch to make the project happen after the region missed out on a handful of other projects.
“I think that was probably a pretty big factor in a bipartisan group of people coming together in our state capital to make sure we’re being just as competitive as other states,” Davids said.
Now, though, the pressure is on local leaders to deliver after promising $40 million in infrastructure upgrades to make the site ready to support the small city that will rise from what is now open field.
“Drinking water, wastewater, the roads, all of those things, they’re already being improved but this is one of those things that I think it going to highlight the work that our local elected have been doing,” Davids said.
KDOT is already studying improvements and a potential express land for nearby K10 Highway, since the future of De Soto and Johnson County seems poised to include a lot more people.
“We will be the production epicenter for batteries that will power the increasing demand for EVs in a more sustainable world,” Kelly said.
Ironically, there are no public EV charging stations within De Soto city limits right now. The closest one appears to be in Shawnee, about seven miles away.
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