Koch Industries breaks ground on headquarters expansion

The last time Koch Industries marshaled its Wichita employees to mark the start of construction of a building on its property near 37th and Oliver was 23 years ago.

The list of dignitaries slated to speak at the ceremony for the company’s “tower” building included local, state and federal elected officials.

“And I think there may have been almost as many people up on the platform giving speeches as there were in the audience,” said Koch president and chief operating officer Dave Robertson.

On Tuesday, Robertson and Charles Koch made brief comments while thousands of Wichita employees joined them on the campus to break ground on the company’s three-story, 210,000-square-foot building that will house 745 employees.

Koch and its companies, which earn about $115 billion in annual revenue, need more space for the nearly 800 employees they’ve added in Wichita in the past 13 years. Their total Wichita employment stands at 3,000 workers.

“In my view, our growth is in large part driven by our philosophy, of which a fundamental part is our belief that the role of business in society is to provide products and services that make people’s lives better,” Charles Koch said in his remarks at the groundbreaking. “And as a result of that philosophy and the kind of people we have, you are doing a fantastic job of constantly innovating to create more and more value for our customers.”

Tuesday’s ceremony was likely more casual than the one in June 1990.

Robertson, whose speech was largely to introduce Charles Koch, was wearing black trousers and an orange T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Creative Construction” on the back. The thousands of Koch employees were also wearing the orange T-shirts.

“I haven’t seen this much orange in one place since I went to an Oklahoma State football game long, long ago,” Koch said.

Koch’s speech included a lot of poking fun at himself and Robertson, who at the end of Koch’s formal remarks climbed aboard a shiny mustard-colored Caterpillar excavator and dug the first hole.

“Wow. He’s better at this than I thought he would be,” Koch said. “We just found a new role for him in the company.”

Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia said Robertson spent a Saturday at Foley Equipment learning how to operate the excavator.

In between the jokes, Koch acknowledged the work of his company’s employees and how their contributions led to the need to build another office building.

“What I’m not kidding about is that with the growth we’re driving in this company, I believe in just a few years we’ll be needing another one of these buildings,” Koch said. “So congratulations to all of you for that.”

The building will be built on the northwest side of Koch’s Wichita campus, which encompasses 180 acres and existing office space of more than 1 million square feet. It will be on a portion of 37th Street North, which is being re-routed a quarter-mile to the north between Oliver and Hillside to accommodate the building project.

The new building will include a cafeteria and training center. Construction is expected to be complete in mid-2015.

Hutton Construction is the construction manager, along with partner GE Johnson. Howard and Helmer is the architect, and Professional Engineering Consultants is the engineering firm.