Wichita City Council members on Tuesday approved a $250,000 forgivable loan, a five-year abatement of property taxes, and industrial revenue bonds to abate sales taxes for a French aerospace company seeking to expand its operations in Wichita.
The company, Figeac-Aero North America, plans to spend about $20.7 million to expand its current building at 9313 E. 39th St. by 65,000 square feet and build a second plant of 90,000 square feet across the street. The company, which employs about 50 locally, has agreed to hire 200 people over the next five years.
The taxes the company pays on its existing plant, about $102,000 a year to all taxing jurisdictions, will remain the same. The tax abatement on the new construction will end after five years.
The council approved the measure on a 5-1 vote. Council member Jeff Blubaugh voted no.
Sedgwick County commissioners had earlier approved a $250,000 forgivable loan. The project is also eligible for a host of state incentives, according to city economic development analyst Tim Goodpasture.
Company general manager Hocine Benaoum said the work could begin this summer and be complete by the spring of 2016. It will house the company’s North American headquarters and feature about 15 senior executives in addition to engineers, machinists, inspectors and other workers.
He said the company has been working through the North American expansion for 18 months, including some aggressive courting by other locales, and he was happy to be done.
“We’re ready to start digging,” he said.
The company continues to hire, and its existing building is starting to reach capacity, he said.
Gary Plummer, president of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, told the council that many people argue that Wichita shouldn’t have to offer such large incentives to get companies to invest here. But, he said, the council shouldn’t consider this a bribe solicited by Figeac-Aero; rathery incentives are tools that allow Wichita to remain competitive.
Goodpasture said Kinston, N.C., and the state of North Carolina aggressively courted Figeac-Aero, as did Louisiana. Mexico was also an option.
In other action, the council:
▪ Approved a plan to install a light at Webb Road and Corporate Hills Drive, currently the entry into an area of hotels and a post office, and next year the entry point to Costco. The $300,000 cost will be borne by the property owners. A temporary signal will go up during construction, starting this summer. Dave Rasmussen, general manager of the Hampton Inn, said the hotels in the area had long thought the intersection dangerous and tried in 2008 to get it changed, but the effort never went anywhere. Former councilwoman Sue Schlapp happened to be in the audience and said she remembered that it faltered over who would pay for what. She added: “It’s an awful intersection and it needs to be fixed. God bless you for doing this.”
▪ Refinanced a series of general obligation and water and sewer bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates. Since 2009, the city has refinanced 15 sets of bonds for a savings of $34.9 million.
▪ Approved spending $90,000 on rebates for people who buy water conserving equipment such as high-efficiency toilets or rain barrels. This money comes from $1 million the council approved in 2013 to encourage water conservation. Most was spent on rebates in 2013 and 2014, but $240,000 remains.
City staff wants to spend $150,000 on cost-benefit studies this year to see exactly what strategies save the most water for the least money. The remainder is going to rebates this year.