In Full Bloom

With its central location, low cost of living and numerous economic opportunities, Topeka has become an ideal location for many food companies.


VITAL STATS

Located in the heart of the nation.

Population: 300,000

Land Area: 555 square miles

Incentives: Topeka is actively developing economic opportunities for both existing and new companies.

Topeka is home to some well--known and major companies in the food industry. Easy access to major north--south and east--west interstates, coupled with the city’s proximity to major food growers, makes locating in Topeka a good choice for food companies.

"It’s truly the breadbasket in the Midwest, and many food manufacturers have been located here for longer than 75 years," says Doug Kinsinger, president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

Highway and rail accessibility is readily available, with I--70 for east--west access and I--35 and I--75 offering excellent north--south access. "This is really a major trucking hub, and Kansas City is just under an hour away for companies looking for intermodal facilities," Kinsinger says.

The Union Pacific and BNSF railroads are very active in the city, with about 120 trains a day departing and arriving. "Topeka is one of the original headquarters for the old Santa Fe Railroad, and BNSF still operates a major rail yard here, employing more than 1,000 people here in our community," says Kinsinger.

The city is actively developing economic opportunities for both existing and new companies. A local option sales tax, in force through 2012, will stimulate economic development and maintain and expand the transportation infrastructure with a $60 million commitment through 2012. Kinsinger says $5 million is already earmarked each year for economic development and $9 million will be used for local roads and bridges.

"These revenues are put into a fund which will be used to attract new businesses, acquire land, improve utilities, prepare sites and market our region," Kinsinger says.

Topeka is also considering the construction of a water pre--treatment facility to be operated by the city. "We have several large users of water; the cost of water and of its pretreatment has increased over the years," says Kathy Moellenberndt, vice president and director for economic development. The effluent from the pre--treatment facility would be biodegradable and the idea is to use the effluent to water local landscaping within the Commerce Park, thereby reducing wastewater treatment costs.

The city offers financial incentives and tax credits designed to help incoming companies reduce some of their up--front costs and accelerate their time lines. "We can provide a property tax exemption of up to 10 years and a tax exemption up to 80 percent or more, depending on the circumstances," Moellenberndt says.

Being in a state Enterprise Zone also helps. "Companies can qualify for a tax credit based on new jobs they create, as well as on capital investments they make," Moellenberndt explains. "In addition, if a company were to pay higher--than--average wages, it would qualify for a larger tax credit that could equate up to 10 percent of their capital investments."

Another program critical to the economic vitality of the region is workforce training. "This is a top issue, even around the country," Moellenberndt continues. "We place a lot of value on training and we offer a number of training programs, as well as skills upgrading, for employees in area companies."

A few top food manufacturing and processing companies in Topeka are Reser’s Fine Foods and Frito--Lay. Reser’s, for example, began operating in Topeka in the early 1990s with 35 employees and a 50,000--square--foot facility. Today, the company operates four production plants there and employs more than 600 people. Frito--Lay operates an 850,000-- square--foot manufacturing facility and a 250,000--square--foot warehouse and employs 850 people.

Kinsinger says the cost of living is low and the region offers numerous cultural amenities and opportunities to enjoy the outdoor life.

Next Stop: Kansas City

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