A first of many new milestones graced Great Plains Manufacturing earlier this month when the Great Plains/Kubota logo went up on a mammoth building in south Salina.
It cemented what company leaders have been mapping for months.
Since purchasing Salina-based Great Plains in July 2016, Kubota included Salina among four strategic growth areas in the United States, along with Edgerton in eastern Kansas, and locations in Georgia and Texas.
The rapidly growing company is transforming the 750,000 square-foot-structure at 3861 S. Ninth, into Kubota’s North American Skid Steer Loader (SSL) and Compact Tracked Loader (CTL) Construction Equipment design and manufacturing center.
More equipment will be envisioned and designed there as the project enters scheduled phases in the next few years. Meanwhile, Great Plains/Kubota is growing its workforce.
Expanding the company’s roster involves stressing GPM\Kubota’s family atmosphere, where the preference is training and promoting from within.
“Kubota’s commitment to central Kansas is very large and the Construction Equipment power units are a major part of their growth plan in the U.S.,” said Linda Salem, president and CEO at Great Plains.
“There are no ‘maybes’ here,” stressed David Disberger, executive vice president at GPM.
The sign change was categorized by him as “a small change marking a new beginning” for the 45-year-old Salina company with worldwide reach. The Great Plains Ag Division is known for filling farming and livestock needs, while Land Pride specializes in landscaping and dirt-working equipment.
Now comes the Construction Equipment Division.
“We are genuinely growing, and we need a lot of people who want to come to work for Great Plains/Kubota,” Disberger said. “We have an immense amount of equipment ordered from every corner of the world and it will soon be arriving.”
Production is slated to begin the second half of 2022. The company plans to utilize the skills, expertise, and Kansas know-how to increase U.S. production and shorten delivery times to domestic dealers, further leveraging Great Plains/Kubota within the U.S. market.
The Kubota CE Research & Development Center will add to the product portfolio, provide stronger support for the North American market, and allow a close mesh with the Land Pride design team’s attachment strategy.
While there may be challenges ahead, Great Plains is on track with hiring.
“We had a timetable of positions we wanted to fill,” Salem said. “We have succeeded in doing that.”
Key among them is Larry Johnson, director of CE Engineering, and Chris Montgomery, the division’s manager of operations.
They will be starting up the R&D center and manufacturing, respectively.
“We will grow in multiple phases that will quadruple the current CE Division staff by mid-year 2022,” Montgomery said of Great Plains/Kubota, currently with 1,700 employees spread over several north-central Kansas communities.
Montgomery joined the team in November to lead the CE project, and will transition to plant manager once the facility is in operation, Disberger said.
Johnson joined GPM/Kubota in March and will lead the CE engineering team.
“Great Plains is growing in each of our facilities. We need 100 more employees right now across Kansas,” Salem said. “Once we start our production, we will have 135 people in our CE facility.”
The company has already staged successful job fairs in each of its communities, she said, and more are ahead.
Great Plains has billboards up in and around Salina, touting starting wages at $16 an hour, with shift differential rates that add $2 an hour.
“Those are going to be good, long-term, stable jobs. We’re going to grow and provide opportunities for people to advance their careers,” the CEO said.
Being smack-dab in the center of the country, GPM has flourished in its ability to advance the economies of towns in Salina’s hinterlands, touting great communities that mimic the goals and hospitalities of Kansas and rural America.
Great Plains/Kubota is blessed with well-defined goals. Company leaders know what they want and how to get there, while embracing everyone in their employ.
Johnson’s story is a strong example of a grassroots climb to prominence, starting in 1985 as a community college student in Burlington, Iowa, working part-time as a draftsman with the Case Company, and rising to an executive level over nearly 30 years.
After a stint with Polaris, the opportunity with Great Plains/Kubota snared Johnson’s interest, and he’s looking for eager workers he can springboard.
“I am building my team from scratch, and they get the majority of the say in the engineers they hire,” Johnson said. “Every link in the chain is totally accountable for their endeavor.”
Kubota has high standards, he said, and its leaders are geared to build Salina’s presence in the already-strong domestic construction equipment industry.
“One of the things that excites me is I’m learning the Kubota Way,” he said. “We’re cutting holes in the walls and putting windows in to make the work environment very relaxed and collaborative.”
Cubicles will be built to aid in the give-and-take of imaginative minds. Work spaces will be 42 inches tall and topped with eight inches of frosted glass.
“When you look out, you will still see people. This place is gonna be awesome,” Johnson said. “It will be a comfortable and productive environment.”
Kubota’s recipe is a culture aimed at meeting customer needs, he said.
“The center will include a Zen garden,” Johnson said, “promoting a relaxed environment conducive to creativity. It’s a great work environment, and it’s not just happening. A lot of thought has gone into it.”
Kubota has a full team of engineers in Japan, who are prepping for the move to middle America.
“They will come here to get closer to the customer, to better understand this market and more quickly respond to it,” Johnson said. “In the meantime, when you look at the market share, they’ve just crushed it. There’s no question in my mind that we’ll be number one in no time.”
Kubota has been impressive, said Disberger, who was in his first year with Great Plains when the company was acquired by the Japanese manufacturer.
“They have been great partners and great owners of the business,” he said. “They recognized the Midwest work philosophy, that get-it-done attitude. I’m impressed with the products we’ve introduced to the marketplace.”
The Great Plains/Kubota total roster is expected to grow to at least 2,110 workers by 2025 and 2,310 by 2030, Disberger said this past spring, suggesting then that the projections were conservative.
Besides Salina, with headquarters at 1525 E. North, Great Plains and Land Pride operates in Tipton, Ellsworth, Lucas, Assaria, Kipp, Abilene and Enterprise.
“We’re excited to have the investment and facilities so that Kubota reaches its objectives and communities grow stronger and larger,” Salem said. “We certainly know the labor pool is tight here.”
Great Plains/Kubota has melded its goals with Salina and Saline County leaders who are teaming up to offer a warm embrace to workers.
In a sense, Montgomery represents a kind of Welcome Wagon for the new building owners, having spent 23 years within those walls when it held the Philips Lighting tag. His last title at Philips was plant manager, and he knew every nook and cranny of the huge structure.
“The walls were full, almost needing to expand,” Montgomery said, “and now it’s transitioning out to a different manufacturing concept.”
He’s been heavily involved in laying out the entire new plant process.
“We’ve made hundreds of revisions of how the equipment will be established, where the flow of the processes will be,” Montgomery said, “all with the final vision kept in mind.”
Expansions are part of the schedule for a number of years, but Kubota leaders have been very clear about what their final product will be.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” Montgomery said. “All of the leaders are focused on delighting their customers and they care about their employees and retaining them.”
Workers will be valued as the company flourishes in Salina, he said.
“This company has an enormous growth potential, and opportunities are going to be there,” Montgomery said. “It’s really as far as you want to go with Great Plains/Kubota. If you want to move up, there will be that opportunity for you.”