East Hills Business Park manufacturer files plans to expand; an update on enrollment growth, possible new programs at city’s vo-tech school

By Chad Lawhorn

January 20, 2017

In my house, when you want to add some bling to a package, equip my wife with a Be Dazzler and take to the root cellar to avoid the rhinestone explosion that is to come. In the world of industrial packaging, though, you are more likely to turn to Lawrence-based API America, and I’ve gotten word API is expanding its local bling-producing operations.

API officials have filed plans with City Hall to build an approximately 11,000 square-foot, $750,000 expansion onto its manufacturing facility at East Hills Business Park. Jaime Bryant, vice president of operations for API, confirmed to me that the expansion likely would result in three to five new jobs at the plant, which is located at 3841 Greenway Circle. The company currently has about 100 employees at its Lawrence location.

If you are still confused about what API actually makes, think of some of the shiny products that are used on packages these days. The company’s website says the firm specializes in making foils, films, laminates and holographic finishes that are used on labels, cartons, containers and other such packages. Among its clients are some of the big names in the liquor, candy, tobacco, perfume and cosmetics industries. I don’t know what the case is today, but previously I was under the impression that a good amount of product also got shipped across town to the Lawrence Hallmark plant that is the primary producer of greeting cards in North America. The company serves a variety of industries, Bryant said.

“Just about anything that you want to add a little bling to your packaging, that is what we make out here,” Bryant said.

The new space will be devoted to additional production, Bryant said. The company has long had operations in New Jersey, but the company for several years has been considering consolidating more of its work at the Lawrence plant.

As part of the project, the company also will be moving some of its distribution and warehouse space out of the East Hills Business Park and into vacant space at the Peaslee Tech building near 31st and Haskell. Peaslee Tech — the vo-tech center operated by local economic development entities — is located in the former Honeywell Avionics manufacturing facility. Peaslee Tech occupies only a portion of that building. A key part of Peaslee Tech’s funding strategy is to lease the vacant space to private companies.

Marvin Hunt, executive director at Peaslee Tech, said API has signed a lease for nearly 23,000 square feet of space. API will occupy about all the vacant space in the facility, except for about 15,000 square feet that Peaslee Tech is reserving for future expansion of the vo-tech center.

“Having API as a tenant will help stabilize our finances for the next several years,” Hunt said. “We can really count on them as a good partner for a lot of years.”

Bryant said API hopes to have the expansion project completed in about 18 months. The property already is properly zoned to accommodate the industrial project. The development just needs some technical site plan approvals from the city’s planning and development services department.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Since I’ve mentioned Peaslee Tech, now seems like a good time for an update on the vo-tech center. Hunt tells me that the center has a little more than 300 students — both the high school and adult variety — enrolled for its vocational programs this spring. That number is steady from the fall semester, but is up from about 150 students at this time last year.

Hunt is projecting that next fall’s enrollment will be between 350 to 400 students. He said the center likely will have two new programs to offer students: an automotive repair major and a program to train people wanting to work in power plants, green energy or other utility fields.

We’ve reported on the automotive initiative previously. A group of local auto dealers has committed funding to the project, and Hunt is now seeking to secure some additional support from auto parts stores, automotive repair shops and other similar types of businesses. The center hasn’t yet begun construction of the new laboratory space that will be needed for the automotive program, but Hunt said a request for proposals will be issued in the next couple of weeks.

On the power plant program, Hunt said Peaslee Tech is in serious discussions with Emporia-based Flint Hills Technical College to bring its power plant technology program to Lawrence.

“That program helps people gain careers in areas like gas, hydroelectric, solar and nuclear power plants,” Hunt said. “We’re really looking at all the companies associated with utilities and the potential that exists there.”

The center currently is undergoing several construction projects. Work is concluding on the remodeling of nine offices and a conference room to house the operations of Douglas County senior services while its longtime home next to the Lawrence Public Library prepares for renovations. The center also will be installing fire sprinklers in the warehouse area that API is leasing, Hunt said.