Ricketts celebrates manufacturing at Behlen
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Ricketts celebrates manufacturing at Behlen

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Gov. Pete Ricketts on Wednesday made a stop in Columbus to spotlight companies contributing to the state’s manufacturing output and the overall economy.

Ricketts signed a proclamation denoting October as Manufacturing Month throughout Nebraska and as part of the festivities, made a stop at Columbus' own Behlen Mfg. Co., which is celebrating its 35th year as a local, family-owned enterprise.

Although Ricketts was cognizant of the contributions that Nebraska’s agricultural base makes to the state, he made a point of talking about the influence that manufacturing provides to the state’s bottom line.

“Everybody knows that agriculture is our No. 1 industry, but manufacturing is No. 2,” Ricketts said. “It contributes over $13 billion to our state’s economy every year. One in 10 non-farm jobs are employed in manufacturing and there are lots of great careers.

"One of the things we want to do today is highlight what Behlen is doing around our Registered Apprenticeship program and Youth Apprenticeship programs, which we’ve grown around 44 percent in the state of Nebraska."

The excitement was palpable as a cross-section of employees at Behlen got the opportunity to hear Ricketts speak on a wide variety of topics, including the aforementioned apprenticeship programs that Behlen has played a key contributor. A luncheon was held beforehand with three apprentices, all students at Columbus and Lakeview high schools, as well as a wide variety of public officials and community leaders, including Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, Chamber President Jeanne Schieffer, Behlen President and CEO Phil Raimondo and representatives from all three Columbus school districts.

Following lunch and the governor's speech, Ricketts toured the facilities, viewing a wide variety of applications and tasks. His impressions of Behlen were extremely positive, as was to be expected from one of Columbus’ most storied businesses.

“Behlen has got a great operation,” Ricketts said. “They’ve got great customers and great people that are working here. It was cool to see how the technology is impacting their operation. For example, we got to talk to a gentleman by the name of Jose Rivera who started here at 18 - now he’s only 21 - but he is working with their robotics which they brought in to do some of their welding."

Raimondo was eager to play host to the governor so that he could see what’s happening within the 8,000-square-foot facility. Ricketts didn’t see any hands-on work (he wasn’t controlling any of the robotic welders), but Raimondo was more than happy to show him around and provide him with an up-close and-personal look on how Behlen makes its many products.

“We’re very excited to have the governor here to kick off Manufacturing (Month),” Raimondo said. “We didn’t give him the same chance to drive a combine (like in Grand Island yesterday), but we did give him the full-size tour, he got to see the robotic welder running and it was just great to understand that our governor, the head of our state government, is committed to seeing manufacturing be successful in our state. That’s just absolutely wonderful and we’re excited about it.”

Raimondo was also happy to promote the young people who are learning more about how things work at Behlen through the Youth Registered Apprenticeship program.

“We’re excited to have high school kids that are involved in manufacturing and learning what we do at Behlen,” Raimondo said. “They’re very excited about all the opportunities, but it seems like they get most excited about welding, which is really great.”

While Ricketts spoke to the gathered employees at Behlen, he talked about the four key aspects of his governorship - his “Four Pillars." Those were developing Nebraska’s workforce, running government in an efficient, business-like manner, reducing the burden on taxpayers and promoting Nebraska throughout the country and around the world.

Ricketts said that an efficient operation like Behlen is a prime example of what state government should try to emulate.

“When we have services that we have to provide and expenses that we have to control, we can use the same techniques that companies like Behlen do through process improvement to be able to figure out how we can do a better job serving people and control our costs at the same time,” Ricketts said. “A lot of it has to do with, ‘What are the unnecessary steps?’ ‘Where’s the waste in the system and how can we cut those out?’”

“One of the examples I gave was cutting time to issue a general air construction permit from 188 days to about 90 days. That process used to be 110 steps long, we cut it down now to 57 steps. Taking out a lot of the handoffs has allowed us to be more efficient.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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