December 10, 2010

More bang for the buck: ATK's Lake City Army Ammunition Plant brings benefits to Independence

Kansas City Business Journal - James Dornbrook

The 3,965-acre Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence may be surrounded by a fence patrolled by armed guards, but its effect on the region is not bound within that perimeter.
Once inside, it’s easy to see this is more than just a manufacturing operation running around the clock to produce 1.4 billion rounds of small-caliber ammunition a year. Lake City is aptly named.

“It truly is just like a small city,” said Jack Figg, director of community affairs and commercial development for Lake City operators ATK Small Caliber Systems, a division of Alliant Techsystems Inc. “Think of it this way: When you walk into a town like Buckner, Mo., it has about the same population as Lake City.”
Supporting the jobs of 2,750 ATK employees, the plant has much of the same infrastructure as a city. Lake City has its own power plant, water plant, sewage treatment facility, a boiler to create steam and its own fire department. It has 11 homes for military officers in the region. It has 22 miles of road and receives 300 trucks a day bringing supplies and hauling away about 5 million rounds of ammunition that is produced daily.
“J.B. Hunt has a huge facility in this area, but they don’t have 300 trucks a day,” Figg said. “We run at that level five days a week. Saturdays and Sundays it’s smaller, but we’re still running. We’re mainly buying brass and lead, but we’re also buying safety gloves, shoes, uniforms, coveralls, glasses, earplugs, paper pads, pencils, etc. … It’s a huge amount of stuff coming in and going out.”
Production was ramped up through a $244 million renovation of the 65-year-old plant that was overseen by Mark Hissong, who was named as general manager of the plant in April.
There are many projects under way at the plant on any given day because all the infrastructure at Lake City requires maintenance and repair. The facility’s 70-year-old water, steam and sewer pipes create regular projects. Figg said the plant has about 20 projects going on right now, each requiring the services of an engineer and contractors.
Chris Snider, a project manager for Burns & McDonnell, has led several projects at Lake City. He recently completed a multimillion-dollar explosives incinerator project.
“It incorporated some new technolgy,” Snider said. “It’s a first-of-its-kind explosives waste incinerator. They had unique requirements for that related to safety and environment. There were also operational issues surrounding not interrupting production. They are in a peak demand cycle right now, so they don’t want any interruption of flow.”
Burns & McDonnell is moving on to its next project at Lake City, a significant upgrade to the wastewater pretreatment plant, worth about $35 million.
“The military requirements combined with the fact that you are often dealing with explosives and other hazardous materials can make their projects interesting,” Snider said. “All those special requirements, along with the busy nature of the facilities, make their projects more challenging and fun. ATK is also a great client. Their people are qualified, dedicated and responsive.”
Hissong said every employee knows the importance of doing his or her job correctly.
“People know that what we do here supports troops overseas who will be using the products we shipped a couple weeks ago,” Hissong said. “So that does reach into the community. It’s the basis by which we have a tight bond with the community. We could literally list off 20 different families that truly go back several generations. Their parents worked here, and their grandparents worked here. That is what fuels the place. It really creates a degree of pride. People know that when something goes down here, it can’t stay that way for long, and they respond with urgency. People do what it takes to keep ammunition flowing to the war effort.”
Because of the sheer size of the work force at the plant, there is constant turnover as people retire or move to new jobs elsewhere. Hissong said he hires about 20 to 25 people every month. That means he constantly is scouring the region to attract high-level talent. The types of jobs range from production and maintenance workers to engineers and management.
ATK’s maintenance crew alone has more than 200 people.
“They are mainly focused on keeping the equipment running and maintaining the equipment that makes the product,” Hissong said. “But there are parts of the department that do other projects. It all depends on the size and duration of the project. We don’t want to keep them from their primary purpose too much.”
That means ATK also often hires contractors to help out with everything from mowing about 3,000 acres of grass to snow removal, trimming trees, cleaning buildings and cooking food.
St. Louis-based Elite Cuisine LLC provides all the food and beverage services at the facility, paying rent to occupy a building and charging individually for meals. It provides about 500 meals a day to ATK employees.
“They view food service as an important benefit for their people, and it’s important to them to have a good program,” Elite Cuisine President Jim Schweppe said. “So they work closely with us to make sure we have everything we need to provide that. We have a kitchen there and can make just about anything.”
Figg said there are several other businesses that lease buildings on the property. He tries to find tenants that either add to ATK’s operations or have a military-related application.
For instance, Pride Machinery Inc. is a machine shop with about eight employees and helps keep ATK machines running. It means ATK doesn’t have to ship machines outside of the plant and deal with all the special rules that require the machine to meet high levels of decontamination from explosives before venturing outside of the fence.
Other tenants within Lake City are ATK Links, which employs 127 people and produces the links for belts of ammunition; Arcadis U.S. Inc., an engineering firm; Mast Technologies, with 82 employees building practice rounds for grenade launchers; and 1st MidAmerica Credit Union, which provides financial services with a branch office on the property.
The wide-ranging economic effect of Lake City is not lost on Independence Mayor Don Reimal.
“The last report I had showed they’ve hired more people in the past three months than anyone else in the city,” Reimal said. “With the suppliers and all the contractors as well, I don’t know how you’d even begin to gauge the total impact of that plant. They also have some of the best volunteer-minded people around and are willing to step outside of what they do in their manufacturing operation to help the community.”

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