Worker Woes

Lack of workers plagues Clay Center manufacturer.

First District Congressman Jerry Moran, visited agri-businesses in north central Kansas two weeks ago to learn about issues affecting these important components of the local economy.

At Hutchinson/Mayrath in Clay Center, the issue is finding enough workers to keep the plant running at capacity. The plant can hold 350 employees; it currently has 220 workers.

Hutchinson/Mayrath pays competitive wages to compete with other area manufacturers, including Sunflower in Beloit; Great Plains in Salina and Landoll in Marysville.

The obstacle, Williams notes, is a lack of affordable housing. "We need good housing, something that will draw folks to Clay Center," he says.

A number of workers drive to Clay Center from as far as 60 miles away. To attract workers, Hutchinson/Mayrath has considered running "pick-up" routes in area communities. It also is mulling over cooperation with the City of Clay Center to build on-site housing for workers and their families. Though these potential solutions are costly, it would ensure that the plant runs at capacity and fills demand for its grain-handling products.

"We estimate that we lost $5 million last year because we couldn't meet demand," says Cliff Williams, president of the company.

Hutchinson/Mayrath started a nighshift, but lacks sufficient workers to keep it running at full-speed. Some workers are clocking more than 60 hours per week, and "they just can't keep that up," Williams says.

The company's ownership group, Global Industries, Inc., recently invested $1 million in facility upgrades such as robotic cutters and welders to ease the labor shortage. It also has created sales incentives programs to level out the production curve, which typically reaches a peak in the fall, then has a down cycle in other months.

"All the area manufacturers are in the same boat," Williams explains. "We all need people."

Farmers in the U.S. are seeking high-quality grain-moving products for on-farm use, and Williams expects greater demand overseas for the same. Mexico, Russia and the European Union – though just 20% of the company's sales currently – looms as an increasingly large market for Hutchinson/Mayrath.

In its 50-year history, Hutchinson/Mayrath Company, Clay Center, has netted its owners a profit 49 times. With demand for its grain augers and conveyors – specifically, its "Squeeze-Belt" conveyor system and supporting equipment that moves 10,000 bushels of grain per hour - the best is yet to come, Williams says.

"The future looks so bright," Williams says. "We just need people."

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