COLUMBUS — Central Confinement Services owner Mark Gearhart said he’s stayed in business for 35 years for two simple reasons.
“I guess the secret is treat people fairly and work hard,” he said. “That's pretty much the synopsis of how I've done it over the years.”
But those aren’t the only reasons Central Confinement has managed to grow from two guys, a welding machine and a two-vehicle garage to the manufacturing powerhouse it is today.
Central Confinement’s main business is livestock confinement facilities. In the past few years, it's seen greater demand for facilities in the beef and dairy industries.
Gearhart said the Columbus company has always “had a presence in dairy," but is now seeing more orders for unique dairy structures.
“Large-scale commodity or pantry-type buildings which are used on large dairy farms to efficiently feed the animals,” he said. “(They) save feed dollars and also do a better job of making rations.”
He's also hoping to benefit from the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry chicken processing plant being built in Fremont and widespread construction of poultry houses needed to raise the birds.
“We've provided a proposal to the people that are running the construction for building some of those facilities,” Gearhart said.
The company’s primary business is still in swine facilities, which have also changed over the years because of advocacy from animal welfare groups. Fewer facilities have gestation stalls and other types of confinement.
“A lot of people are moving into more of what we call group housing with swine, where they don't have as many individual stalls,” Gearhart said. “There's some states that have mandated that, some of our clients have voluntarily decided to go to that.”
Gearhart said the company’s wholly owned manufacturing division, Mid-Plains Industries, has also gotten busier.
“We do a lot more business in that part of the business,” he said. “We have clients all over the U.S., so we actually manufacture all over.”
At its 35th anniversary event held Thursday, staff were treated to cake and Husker Helicopter rides while clients got to tour the company's 37,000-square-foot facility at 23321 235th St.
While the company’s gotten older, Gearhart said the team has actually gotten younger.
“We have a younger staff of managers here that actually have taken hold of everything,” said Gearhart. “Things are going well.”
Central Confinement is also gradually rolling out stock options for employees, with the goal of making the company employee-owned.
To further encourage the next generation to join the team, Central Confinement has worked with the Grand Island Career Pathways Institute.
“We do have those people come out to our facility from time to time,” Gearhart said. “Show them what we do and how we do it.”
He’d like to see a similar program for high schoolers take off in Columbus. Like other companies in the area, there are skills and positions the business has trouble finding in the workforce.
“Columbus is a welder-deficient area,” said Gearhart. “There's always more room for welders.”
Overall, he’s optimistic about the company’s future.
“It’s growing every year,” he said. “As usual, we feel we should grow every year.”