It’s no secret the current administration at Belton City Hall, from the mayor and other elected officials straight across to City Manager Alexa Barton, have been under some fire for the past couple of years – not the least of which has come from these pages.
Much of that has quieted in recent months as everyone’s attention has turned to crisis management with the ongoing pandemic, the kind of unprecedented challenge none of us has faced in our lifetime. We’re in uncharted territory and there seem to be no “right” answers, just answers we choose in the moment – all of which are subject to review and change as conditions change.
Little did the general public know, however, what was going on behind closed doors throughout this crisis. There are times that the business of government at all levels is legitimately conducted in secret, and this is one of them. Still, there are hints that something big is in the offing, and the first to us came a few weeks ago when NorthPointe Development suddenly changed its overall plan for the Southview Commerce Center to reduce the total number of buildings to three, but to make that third building a gigantic 800,000 square foot facility for a specific client, a mystery client.
Clearly something was up. But the fact that there was a “secret” element also meant that whatever was circling had yet to land.
And then we find out late this week in a Kansas City Business Journal feature article just how tight a battle the city was in for this prize – which turned out to be fulfillment center for a brand and a name many of us already know and get positive vibrations from – Chewy Inc.
Elli Bowen, vice president of business development for KC SmartPort told the newspaper that Belton was in a “neck-and-neck” competition with Memphis, Tenn., for the project and its $143 million capital investment – a project that is expected to employ 1,600 people by 2023.
And while most of the nation was still trying to set a course for operation in a brand-new pandemic-colored world, Chewy needed to move.
Area officials first heard from the company’s site selection team on March 25, according to the story – timing that couldn’t have been worse for a City Hall team trying to understand and respond to a once-a-century, life-threatening pandemic.
And those officials, as is customary in situations like this, did not know who they were working with as well, having only a code-name – Project Apokifi – to go by.
The Kansas City metro became involved in a project once aimed at the Pacific Northwest (Apokifi is Greek for “Northwest,” according to Pete Krillies, Chewy’s vice president of real estate and facilities, who happens to be of Greek descent).
But Belton emerged from the two-state metroplex because of the responsiveness of city staff – especially Barton and Economic Development Director Carolyn Yatsook, who personally completed 14 virtual interviews with Chewy representatives over a three-day period, “extolling the benefits of the city’s workforce and direction,” according to the article.
“I have no doubt that that was the turning point for Belton to step into the lead in this project, because they were able to communicate that touch and feel of Belton and the Kansas City region in a phone call,” rather than in person, Bowen told the newspaper.
In the article, Yatsook said the approach was customary, even if it doesn’t always pay off.
“We’ve worked multiple projects, we’ve never gotten to the finish line, but those projects along the way taught us exactly what we needed to do, which is be nimble and be quick and be very responsive.”
Obviously, the test was passed with flying colors.
“This is huge news,” said Subash Alias, CEO of Missouri Partnership, told the KCBJ.
“We’re going to be screaming from the rooftops about the fact that 1,600 jobs are coming to the state, to Kansas City region...during a pandemic.”
And take that a step further. No matter how proud we may be and how hard we may work on The North Cass Herald, a glowing article in The Kansas City Business Journal is a different animal.
Technically, it’s a weekly newspaper and a website, yes, but it’s also linked nationally with other metro business journals and is a daily must-read for CEOs and top management throughout the business world – a world that now knows Belton’s name in connection with a hot, hot property.