Plans for bringing Amazon’s HQ2 to Southwestern Johnson County were laid in the 1800s, Bill Sutton said.
“As soon as the (Santa Fe, Oregon, and California) trails divided here, all of this was in the cards,” said Sutton, a Kansas state representative whose district encompasses Gardner and Edgerton. “If the trails divided here, then guess where the railroads came? Then the highways were laid out and were roughly equivalent to the rail lines.”
The Gardner, Kansas, area — specifically New Century AirCenter — is among 17 Kansas City area sites submitted Oct. 19 to Amazon as part of the regional bid for the online retail giant’s second headquarters, Sutton said.
The state legislator was part of discussions about the project, he said, though not a member of the hands-on Kansas City Area Development Council team that compiled the bid. Direct participants are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that prevents them from discussing details of the proposal, according to the KCADC. Limited information, which did not include specific sites, was released by the group Oct. 19, following the bid’s submission.
“Our KC region has never seen an economic development opportunity of this magnitude that is so publicly visible, requiring the amount of information in the time frame that Amazon requested, and the level of community engagement and response that we needed for this opportunity,” said Tim Cowden, KCADC president and CEO, in the release. “I am so proud of our OneKC team. This project has proven we have the ability to come together and tell a comprehensive KC story that sets our region apart from all others across North America.”
Gardner’s history as a junction point, as well as its current logistical capabilities, put the community at the crossroads of Kansas City’s chances for snagging Amazon, Sutton said.
“We have rail. We have the interstate highways. We have an airport that can land a C-5,” he said. “The only thing we’re missing is a deepwater port. And that’s going to be difficult to find anywhere in Kansas.”
A video rendering circulated on social media shows a proposed site for Amazon’s HQ2 on the southeast and northwest sides of I-35 at New Century, northeast of Gardner proper. Originally posted to YouTube Sept. 26 by “Bartlett & West Rendering,” the video depicts a sprawling Amazon campus that includes retail and hotels, a Whole Foods grocery store, an Amazon Technical Institute, Johnson County Community College Amazon Campus, and a transit center, as well as a hangar for Amazon drones, cargo and corporate air.
Representatives from the Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corporation and Bartlett & West, a Topeka-based engineering and design firm, would not comment on the video, citing the non-disclosure agreement.
“The rendering is accurate. They did a fantastic job,” Sutton said. “But I’m not sure people understand the size and scope of this thing. When I discuss it with people around town, I’m not sure they’re fully aware of the impact.”
Southwestern Johnson County already is home to two Amazon fulfillment centers — at Edgerton’s Logistics Park Kansas City intermodal facility and in nearby Lenexa — along with an Amazon Prime Pantry facility at New Century. But with 50,000 high-paying HQ2 jobs coming to the winning city, that could mean an influx of more than 75,000 people when spouses and families are factored in, Sutton said. Gardner’s current population is about 19,000, having doubled in size since 2000 thanks to rapid residential development in the suburban bedroom community.
“I’m certainly not going to push Amazon away by any means,” he said. “But that creates a fair number of challenges all by itself: keeping the infrastructure up to speed, building the schools that would be required.”
Jason Camis, CEO of the Gardner Edgerton Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Amazon would be a game-changer — for Gardner or any other Kansas City community where it might land.
“An opportunity like this seldom comes along,” he said. “This would change the nature of our community in many ways and open up so many possibilities for kids, adults, businesses — you name it.”
It’s a long shot for any city — “a 0.5 percent chance if you just do the simple math of 240 bids,” Camis said.
“But more importantly in my mind is that we have a better idea of what is possible in the future,” he continued. “If we can competitively bid on something this big, we can compete for virtually any development with what we have. That in itself is the biggest opportunity that Amazon has presented.”
In addition to nearby Olathe, Kansas, participants in Kansas City’s regional bid also included economic development leaders from such communities as Lee’s Summit and Independence, Missouri — geographically opposite from New Century on the northeast side of the metro — according to the KCADC. Stakeholders from the various cities involved expressed similar interest to Gardner in landing the headquarters for their individual communities.
“Lee’s Summit is one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Missouri, offering a collaborative, ‘can-do’ business environment that is on target to attract $2 billion in public and private investment over three years,” said Randall Rhoads, Lee’s Summit mayor, in the KCADC’s Oct. 19 release. “Thanks to the Missouri Innovation Campus and an educational ecosystem that serves as a global model for excellence, Lee’s Summit is building the workforce of the future right here in the Heartland. We look forward to sharing our time, talent and treasure with Amazon.”
A decision on the HQ2 site selection is expected in early 2018.
Whether Amazon picks Gardner, New Century or anywhere else in Kansas City, the region is primed for big development, Sutton said.
“All we can really do is be ready. Even without Amazon, we know something is coming,” he said. “If we’re this attractive to this caliber of a customer, we’re going to be attractive to a lot more. We have to be prepared the growth that’s going to be necessary.”
Check out the video rendering of the New Century site below.