Mars Inc factory in Kansas

The city of Topeka, Kan., provided 150 acres of land for the Mars Inc. plant that will come on line in 2014.

Expansion Management: For Mars Inc., Site Selection is Culture, Culture, Culture

Before settling on Topeka, the company had to make sure the city's culture was a match with its own corporate ideals since 15% to 20% of the total plant's workforce is relocating there from across the company's footprint.  

As a family-owned business with $30 billion in sales last year, Mars Inc. is very serious about the company it keeps. When deciding where to locate its first new U.S. chocolate factory in 35 years, Mars left no stone unturned in reviewing the culture of the community in which it would locate -- Topeka, Kan. 

Before settling on Topeka, the company had to make sure the city's culture was a match with its own corporate ideals since 15% to 20% of the total plant's workforce is relocating there from across the company's footprint.  

"We visited the hospitals, the schools, even the grocery stores, to get a feel for how our employees would fit in with the community," explains Joe Wrona, project manager of the new plant.

See Also: Manufacturing Plant Site Location Strategies

Regardless of job function, there is a common code of conduct. "At Mars, we rely heavily on our Five Principle philosophy. The principles are: quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom," explains Wrona. "We hire people who fit into our culture."

Mars found a community environment it liked and broke ground in Topeka in 2011 on a $250 million plant, which will begin manufacturing chocolate products in 2014.

Once settled on the Topeka location, the company held an event called Meet Mars as a way for the community to learn about the company. A thousand people were expected. Nearly 2,200 attended, and some decided on the spot to apply for positions. 

"When you interview for our company, we are more interested in the person rather than the function they perform," said Wrona. "We want employees who can be innovative and don't check their brains at the door."

Mars even looked to its peers for insight into the area's culture by interviewing, anonymously, other manufacturers. The insight was especially useful since Topeka is becoming a cluster of food manufacturing, with U.S. Foods, Del Monte Foods, Frito-Lay, Reser's Foods, Hill's Pet Nutrition and Bimbo Bakers having facilities around the city.

Topeka offered other advantages as well. "The fact that Kansas has a higher percentage -- 8% -- of the workforce that is employed in manufacturing than other parts of the country was a plus," said Wrona. "Logistics, available education, incentives, and of course the right piece of land were all part of the mix."

Acquiring land is easy in Topeka due to a county program funded by a local option sales tax that allows the city to award land to companies that locate there. Through the economic development agency Go Topeka, Mars was offered 150 acres to build its plant and 40 acres for a wind energy facility, with a market value of $4.5 million.

"For the past 12 years Topeka has been purchasing and developing sites that are shovel-ready," explained Douglas Kinsinger, CEO of GO Topeka. "We have been developing our sites with a focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly features." 

Other incentives Mars received include a performance-based job creation cash incentive of $2.55 million, as well as a variety of infrastructure improvements including a railroad spur that will be built to service the Mars plant. 

For more of the effect of culture on site location, see http://www.industryweek.com/expansion-management/expansion-management-strong-workforce-key-factor-california-location

"While the incentives were important, it was not what won us over," said Bret Spangler, plant manager. "The values of the community matched the values of the company, and this has been borne out in the level of commitment and engagement that we have seen over the past two years as we have been building the plant and training the workforce." 

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