Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addresses the crowd during a February visit to Panasonic’s construction site in De Soto, Kan.
Flickr/Creative Commons photo provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Kansas City, Mo., Local 124 construction members already were busy with a number of major projects.

Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas addresses the crowd during the February event. The Panasonic plant is expected to employ between 700 and 900 Kansas City Local 124 members at the height of construction.
Flickr/Creative Commons photo provided by U.S. Department of Transportation.
Kansas City Local 124 Business Manager Bo Moreno, left, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS Act — both signed into law by President Joe Biden — along with a substantial investment from Kansas officials, they are about to get even busier.

Panasonic is building a $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto, Kan. Ground was broken in November 2022, and electrical work is expected to ramp up this summer.

The project, about 30 miles from Kansas City, is expected to employ 700 to 900 wiremen, Business Agent Jason Duke said.

"The truly exciting thing is that it is going to bring more new opportunities," Duke said. "We're hoping this will bring another car manufacturer and more electric vehicle plants coming to our jurisdiction."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the site of the new plant Feb. 27 with political and labor leaders, including Business Manager Bo Moreno.

"I wanted to make sure we were represented," Moreno said. "Like President Biden, he spoke very favorably of unions, and he emphasized the importance of this being done by union labor."

The addition of such a massive project is welcome in any jurisdiction. Local 124 is no different.

Still, it presents some challenges.

Like many local unions, Local 124 is at full employment. Many members are working on a nearly 1 million-square-foot data center being built by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, after working on a recently completed terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

Additionally, Panasonic is calling for an ambitious construction schedule, wanting the plant fully functional during the first quarter of 2025. Work will likely go seven days a week to meet Panasonic's schedule, Duke said.

"This going to be a heck of a challenge, not just for us, but for our NECA contractors," he said.

Local 124's apprenticeship class numbers 120, the largest in its history. That's important, but it merely scratches the surface of what's needed. The local will have to recruit nonunion electricians for IBEW membership.

"Our organizers have already started that part," Duke said. "Once the work starts, the floodgates will open, and I think you'll see a lot of interest."

Plus, the project likely requires a substantial number of travelers.

"Right now, it's kind of a worker's market," Moreno said, in reference to the ongoing shortage of skilled construction workers in all trades across the United States. "The bottom line is you need that skilled trades worker, so you do what you have to do to get the project built."

Buttigieg told reporters during his site visit that the Panasonic plant is an example of green energy products helping revitalize rural areas, something the IBEW has committed to be being part of. When finished, the facility is expected to have about 4,000 full-time workers with an average wage of $30 per hour.

In addition to federal incentives, Kansas — which has a Democratic governor and a GOP-dominated legislature — offered Panasonic an incentive package that could be worth as much as $892 million.

"So many people in so many communities, in places like Indiana, in places like Kansas, grew up with the message that the only way to succeed was to get out," Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Ind., told the Kansas Recorder.

"This really is a new and stronger era for American manufacturing," he added.

Batteries at the plant will be primarily made for cars manufactured by Tesla. IBEW members also worked on a Tesla plant near Reno, Nev., that opened in 2016. Panasonic manufactured batteries at that plant, although Tesla owns the facility and used most of it for other operations.

Panasonic will own the Kansas facility, Moreno said.

"There won't be so many cooks in the kitchen," he said. "They've been very receptive with us when it comes to our needs and letting us know what's expected."