An eye-opening tour

Great Bend Tribune, Sept. 15, 2021 – Click to reach the published article

The 2021 Making Kansas Bus Tour made a stop in Great Bend Wednesday morning, and industry leaders and advocates from across the state liked what the saw. The week-long event, sponsored by the Kansas Manufacturing Council, in partnership with Kansas Manufacturing Solutions and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, highlights the state’s manufacturing industry and the career opportunities.

“It’s just puts some light on things,” said Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Megan Barfield. She was contacted to help coordinate the local stop which included tours of Fuller Industries, T&C Custom Rubber Manufacturing and Rosewood Services.

It’s also about relationships, said Tim Zimmerman, Hays-based Kansas Department of Commerce project manager. 

“It’s a way for us to see the manufactures operating in the area,” he said, adding they can also show the companies the resources available. “There are benefits both ways.”

Snagging a spot on the Making Kansas tour was a big win, Barfield said. There are a lot of folks here who have great connections with the entities that put the event together.

The state officials were joined by local business, educational and governmental representatives on bus which transported the group from place to place.

The local stop

At Fuller Industries, tour participants walked through the cavernous plant, seeing the brush, plastic molding and chemical operations. Supply chain woes related to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a shortage of cardboard boxes, but otherwise, things are going well, said President Mark Chalfant.

“2020 was a game-changer for us,” he said. How the company adapted to the needs for such items as sanitizer was a high point.

The machinery Fuller uses to meet these needs ranges from equipment dating back to the 1950s to state-of-the-art automation and robotics.

“I don’t see a company that’s going to survive if it doesn’t go into the automated world,” Chalfant said. Many years back, the company employed as many as 600, now it employs 150.

“Business has really improved,” said Craig Pangburn, who along with his wife Annette started T&C Manufacturing 25 years ago. “Things had slowed down, but they are picking back up.”

T&C Custom Rubber Manufacturing produces rubber-molded parts for a wide variety of customers, including the agriculture and oil industries. They even make wheels for wheelchairs. 

The company will soon install a large injection molding machine that will spark an expansion for them, Pangburn said. The manufacturing plant employs seven now, but that will likely grow.

Pangburn’s supply issues revolve around raw materials for their rubber products.

“It’s business with a greater purpose,” said Mike Dawes with Rosewood Services about their business model. “This is not a handout, it is a hand up.”

Tammy Hammond started Rosewood in 1998 to provide manufacturing and other jobs for those with developmental disabilities. Today, those opportunities range from furniture to wine to food products to recycling electronic waste which employ around 200 clients.

Dawes said the clients earn paychecks and feel like they are being productive.

The big picture

“The Kansas manufacturing industry is responsible for more than 16% of our state’s total economic output and employs more than 165,000 Kansans. Still, many in our state do not realize the impact the industry has on their communities,” said Kansas Manufacturing Council Interim Executive Director Sherriene Jones-Sontag. ”We are excited to visit dozens of manufacturers and showcase the many types of products made in Kansas.”

Many think of large firms when they think of manufacturing, she said. But, Kansas is dotted with small companies making important contributions as well.

“Manufacturing is extremely important to the local communities and state economies of Kansas,” said Kansas Manufacturing Solutions CEO Tiffany Stovall. “The Making Kansas bus tour is an exciting opportunity to celebrate and promote manufacturing and highlight a few of the many manufacturers who are making Kansas.”

For those taking the tour it was a great opportunity as well.

“It is a good eye opener,” said Jose Arias with Great Bend High School’s Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG–K) program. It gave him a better idea on what to tell students about the job possibilities in manufacturing.

About the tour

The tour kicked off the statewide journey on Monday in Pittsburgh and it concluded Thursday in Burlington. Local officials, educators, parents, students, and media were invited to ride the bus when the tour is in their communities. The bus tour also will make stops in Atchison, Dodge City, Emporia, Hutchinson, Leavenworth, Olathe, Pratt and Spring Hill.

The bus then will visit manufacturers in the Wichita area on Friday, Oct. 1 in celebration of 2021 National Manufacturing Day.