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GBHS students learn importance of manufacturing
Tours highlight value of manufacturers to GBK economy
Primus Sterilizer Tour
Primus Sterilizer Plant Manager Joseph Law III explains his company’s manufacturing process to Great Bend High School students during the “Made in GBK” tours Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Each Wednesday through the month of October, Great Bend High School students and community leaders toured participating manufacturers in the area to see first-hand how manufacturing transforms the local economy as part of the “Made in GBK” campaign.

The campaign, now in its third year, is sponsored by the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and other area entities to recognize Manufacturing Day, observed Friday, Oct. 8 this year, Chamber Director Megan Barfield said. The local campaign kicked off earlier this month with a joint proclamation by the Barton County Commission and the City of Great Bend. 

Wednesday morning, Oct. 27, a group of students toured KMW Loaders and Doonan Specialized Trailer. In the afternoon, they toured the Primus Sterilizer plant north of Great Bend and the new Dry Lake Brewing Company downtown.

Primus Sterilizer

Primus plant manager John Law III, in demonstrating the importance of the manufacturing to the local economy, noted that products made at his Great Bend plant are shipped to countries across the world and are purchased by such well-known organizations as Johnson & Johnson and Yale University. The plant employs more than 50 people on-site in Great Bend and has a sales force spread across several different regions of the country. They employ welders, fabricators machinists, and a variety of other skilled labor positions.

Law said it’s good to encourage students to consider skilled manufacturing trade jobs as an option out of high school. Students, he said, should consider multiple career options, as they may decide to change careers as they get older. For example, Law said he got an ASE certification in the automotive industry after 12 years active duty in the U.S. Army prior to his work as plant manager in Great Bend.

“To have some kind of skilled trade is important, just to see what they want to do (as a career),” he said.

Dry Lake Brewing

Although he is not what people would consider a traditional manufacturer, Dry Lake Brewing co-owner Kevin Burkey hoped to demonstrate the entrepreneurial side of manufacturing careers to students.

“I wear a lot of hats,” Burkey said. “I make the beer, I market the beer, we do all the accounting, and I’m also the janitor.”

He told students that, as a small-business entrepreneur, the owner/operator is often the lowest hourly wage employee in the business, and is involved in all aspects of the business.

“Even though (we’re) in manufacturing, we still need all aspects of a business to succeed,” he said.

Highlighting his role as a small, non-traditional manufacturer, he emphasized the hospitality aspect of the brewery, as well.

As a business owner, Burkey talked about production and distribution costs that go into being a business owner, as well as highlighting the beer brewing process for students.

One thing that makes him unique as a manufacturer is that the product reaches the consumer in the same place it is produced. Unlike most manufacturers, he said, craft brewing is a tight-knit collaborative industry where brewers often share ideas with one another. He considers other craft brewers collaborators, not competitors.

Creators Wanted, one of the promoters of the events, is a joint effort between the National Association of Manufacturers and The Manufacturing Institute, whose aim, according to the campaign’s website, is to “inspire, educate and empower a new generation of creators in the United States today.”

The group hopes to create a positive perception of manufacturing jobs among students, parents and teachers, thus guiding more young people toward careers in the manufacturing industry.

“We highlight the manufacturing industry and the career paths available,” Barfield said. “(The tours) create opportunities for manufacturers to show students what they do, highlight the economic importance of manufacturing, and draw attention to rewarding manufacturing careers.”

In addition to Creators Wanted, the Chamber also partners with Great Bend High School, Barton Community College, Great Bend Economic Development Inc., and Kansas WorkforceONE. Other sponsors of the event include Kansas Manufacturing Solutions, Landmark National Bank, and Hutton.

Shawn Powelson with Landmark National Bank said taking the time to highlight manufacturers in Great Bend is important because many people do not know about the companies and the work they do, which is crucial to the local economy. He said it’s good for students to know these local employers are available as post-secondary employment options. 

“The more people in our community who know about these businesses and manufacturers, the better it is for everyone,” Powelson said.

Following their tours, students were asked to complete a brief survey and vote on their favorite manufacturer. The manufacturer with the most votes will be recognized during the Building Bridges event, held on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 3 at Great Bend High School, by receiving the first “Made in GBK” Award, culminating the month-long celebration.

Dry Lake Brewing Tour
Dry Lake Brewing co-owner Kevin Burkey details the beer brewing process for gathered Great Bend High School students during a “Made in GBK” tour Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Daniel Kiewel