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Manufacturers share ideas
New group offers networking and resources
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Brett Hughes, Fuller Industries vice-president of sales and marketing, gives a tour of the facility to attendees of the first-ever Central Kansas Manufacturing Network meeting Thursday afternoon. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

From the COVID-19 pandemic to a shifting business landscape, there are many challenges facing area manufacturers today. A new organization aims to help them navigate these turbulent waters.

Central Kansas Manufacturing Network, a coalition of manufacturers led by manufacturers, held its inaugural meeting Thursday afternoon at Great Bend’s Fuller Industries. It is a resource for these central Kansas businesses to connect, learn, and grow, said Jan Peters, regional director of Lenexa-based Kansas Manufacturing Solutions, the business management consultants organizing the CKMN.

“Members focus on manufacturers learning and leading other manufacturers through networking and sharing expertise,” said Peters, who is also the former Great Bend Chamber of Commerce president. “Sharing knowledge between manufacturers can expand business opportunities and strengthen resources.”

With an annual membership fee, CKMN is a member-based organization that will provide monthly events, specialty topic working groups, leadership development, factory tours, and the ability to network and discuss best practices with their peers. 

They will also connect with elected officials at all levels of government and have access to legislative advocacy.

Sharing information

At Thursday’s event, attendees heard from Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence and Casey Harbour with Watco Companies, the railroad that manages the Great Bend Transload Facility.

“Manufacturing accounts for 35% of all employment in the United States,” said Kuehl, an economist whose Lawrence firm advises clients on economic forecasting and strategic planning. That total includes front-line workers as well others who work for those companies.

With this in mind, “the new normal” is difficult to define, he said. The pandemic year has seen populations shift to suburban areas and smaller communities, changing consumer habits, distribution disruptions and inflation, all while a cautious optimism hangs in the air.

“We’re blowing out of this recession,” Kuehl said. This is nothing like the 2008 recession from which the world is still recovering.

“The global economy will change across the board,” he said. Factors will include geo-political forces, such as the rising conflict between the United States and China.

“Transportation can be a challenge,” said Harbour, sales manager for the Pittsburg-based Watco. “One of the things we are having to do is diversify,” something everyone in the room understood.

Watco has access to a national network of rail roads, ports and other transportation hubs which provide worldwide opportunities. Following the keynote addresses, the attendees had the chance to see first hand how Fuller adapted and diversified coming out of COVID as they toured the facility.


The network’s goals

“One of the activities that is missing in central Kansas is a coalition of manufacturers that can get together to discuss the issues, challenges and opportunities that are unique to manufacturing companies,” said Mark Chalfant, CEO of Fuller Industries. “There are numerous topics that are important to manufacturers that each of us face in isolation but in reality, we should band together to solve those problems.”  

Peters is the point person for the group. She will be supported by an advisory board made up of manufacturers throughout central Kansas who direct programming, recommend relevant and timely meeting topics, engage subgroups in creative ideas and solutions, and ensure CKMN remains connected to the greater manufacturing community.  

Peters said they plan to hold meetings at other companies for members. 

Kansas Manufacturing Solutions also manages a similar association in the greater Kansas City area, the Kansas City Manufacturing Network.

“The positive feedback we receive from manufacturer members of the Kansas City Manufacturing Network, along with input from numerous manufacturers in central Kansas, encouraged us to fill this need by developing CKMN,” said Danica Rome, KMS vice-president of partnership operations. 

For information on how to become involved with the association visit or contact Peters at or 620-639-7175. Learn more about KMS at

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Attendees of the inaugural Central Kansas Manufacturing Network meeting pose for a group photo inside the Fuller Industries Great Bend plant Thursday afternoon. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune