Region to reap jobs from bio-defense lab at K-State

Updated: 2013-05-01T02:29:52Z


The Kansas City Star

Remember that proposed $1.14 billion national bio-defense laboratory project by Kansas State University that, would be co-developed by a couple of big firms from outside the region?

It turns out that, at least according to one partner, St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Cos., more than 90 percent of the construction is expected to be done by regional contractors and workers. That’s the word from Scott Wittkop, president of the McCarthy Central Division.

McCarthy is reinforcing its interest in the area by opening an office next month at 10601 Mission Road in Leawood. It’s expected to open with four full-time staffers led by Barry Sutherland and grow in the future.

McCarthy had an area office in the 1980s. Now, with $1.4 billion in work scheduled for the metro area and the region, including the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense facility , Wittkop said it’s time to replant its flag here.

“We have been planning for a Kansas City area office for some time,” he said. “We feel that now is the right time to commit to a full-service office with focus on our core markets of healthcare, education, science and technology, and commercial construction.”

The McCarthy joint venture with M.A. Mortenson Construction of Minneapolis has been given the go-ahead by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to build an $80 million utility plant that would serve the proposed laboratory where deadly pathogens afflicting plants and animals would be studied.

President Barack Obama also included $714 million in his budget for the 574,000-square-foot lab itself. If Congress approves, construction would begin next year and “have a significant impact on the regional economy for a five-year period,” Wittkop said.

Wittkop estimated 92 percent of the subcontracting work for the utility plant, which will heat and cool the adjacent lab, will go to firms in the Kansas City and Manhattan area. That project is expected to be finished in October 2015.

That same ratio is the goal for the main lab project itself, an endeavor that will provide thousands of construction jobs at one time or another in those five years.

McCarthy already is in the middle of a huge manufacturing project in Topeka, a $180 million, 550,000-square-foot plant for Mars Chocolate North America. It’s currently employing about 400 construction workers. The first Snickers and M&M’s are scheduled to begin production runs by the end of this year.

The firm also is rebuilding the hospital destroyed in the 2011 Joplin tornado, and building another hospital in Springfield.

Wittkop said McCarthy wants to push even more into the Kansas City market and is pursuing several projects that he declined to identify. That could put them up against the hometown team, J.E. Dunn Construction Co., which also does a lot of high-value healthcare, research and educational buildings.

J.E. Dunn officials declined to comment when asked about McCarthy’s return to the market.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to Follow him at

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