Economic Development Review from Garden City

Day 1 – 11/1/17

Rob Boss

Submitted by Rob Boss, Bennington (pictured left)

Our Garden City seminar started with Ray Purdy (of American State Bank, and founding KARL board member) giving us some background information on how KARL came to be and what it takes to maintain the program. He discussed the importance of maintaining relationships with donors as well as the importance of simply asking for donations.

KARL decorum
Prayers, or at least a moment for silent prayer, are required before meals. Our full and undivided attention should be afforded to the speaker and we should ask to be recognized before speaking (and announce our name and location of residence). Cell phones need to be silent and set aside. Nametags on the right shoulder to afford a better view of the person being addressed.

We then covered Finney county statistics and concluded this segment with the Code of the West.


The Code of the West is:

  1. Live each Day with Courage
  2. Take Pride in Your Work
  3. Always Finish What you Start
  4. Do What Has to Be Done
  5. Be Tough, But Fair
  6. When you Make a Promise, Keep it
  7. Ride for the Brand (loyalty)
  8. Talk Less and Say More
  9. Remember That Some Things Aren’t For Sale
  10. Know Where to Draw the Line


Alan McEntee, Dairy Farmers of America
McEntee covered some basic background on DFA and information on the new ($235 million) dry milk facility. He emphasized the importance of efficiency both with resource utilization (water), handling and with process efficiency–with only .1 percent of extra recovery at the plant meaning an additional $250,000 for the company. Giving and receiving trust is also very important at all levels of the industry from producers, workers, consumers et al. He also stressed the importance of cooperation with the community and other businesses and to be sure not to grow at the expense of your neighbors.

Bob Temple, WindRiver Grain
Temple gave the class background information on the facilities and their neighbors. As the area is a net importer of corn (cows and ethanol) their grain facilities are busy, handling ~65 trains per year. The wind distribution facility is likewise busy. Mr. Temple stressed the importance of trust, family government cooperation (between individuals and the government and between governments), and growing at a sustainable pace–starting small but working to ensure that they and their neighbors have opportunities.

Lona Duvall, President Finney County Economic Development Corporation (And moderator for this discussion panel)
Lona talked about the area’s labor market and education efforts to meet the demands of the local economy. The area boasts an impressive ~2.8 percent unemployment rate which, when examined alongside the area’s VERY low average age (a smidge over 30), speaks volumes of their efforts to provide jobs for their young workers. An estimated 50 percent of their sales tax receipts come from non-local buyers–beyond amazing in the era of Amazon.

Our second panel, consisting of Lance Woodbury (Ag progress, LLC, KARL class IV), Steve Carlin (Superintendent & Teacher), and Chuck Pfeifer (Higher Ed.) discussed local education.

The local business industry has had trouble hiring workers with appropriate skill sets for the job. This incurs extra training costs, and/or high turnover, for businesses.

Continuing the theme of working together from earlier in the seminar they discussed how the schools are working to better educate for the local job market rather than preparing students for what might be a less than useful four-year degree. The local school district has ~7000 students (very diverse students at that, with 45 percent being ESL) attending 18 different schools. They also employ ~1200 workers. The academy system funnels students toward classes better suited toward technical training.

The community college is also pursuing efforts to provide for the needs of the local job market with business and industry classes and programs that include Ammonia Refrigeration (which would be important at the local Tyson plant and other meat processing facilities) and a John Deere Tech Ed program. They also host classes to order as well as continuing education courses.

A quick summation of the education panel would be that they seek to meet the needs of the community through “Relevance, Rigor, and Relationships” using creative solutions and cooperation for mutual benefit.

The third and final panel of the day was focused on immigration and featured Amro Samy (Local business leader), Michael Feltman (Lawyer), and Kyle Averhoff (Dairy farmer).

Kyle and Samy both discussed the human side of both legal and illegal immigration, the shortcomings of our immigration system, and how it affects local people and business. People can find themselves in the U.S. and stranded, through no fault of their own, and penniless due to changes in law, personal circumstances, or international relations. These people ARE going to work legally or otherwise. Dairy work, being “unskilled” (debatable), means farms aren’t eligible to hire foreign work using the H1B program.

Likewise, illegal immigrants are simply moving to fill a labor demand…and are going to work regardless of laws. Many make an honest effort to obtain legal status but are held up by legal obstacles that do nothing to stem illegal activity and only serve to hamper the would-be legal (No law can prevent a behavior, the best they can accomplish is punish that behavior). It was unspoken, but the feeling that work rules for immigrants are a bit of a joke with federal audits of businesses with MANY working illegally for them having all the legally required paperwork (fraudulently) available.

Mr. Feltman discussed his experiences with immigrants seeking legal status and the frustration stemming from the law. One problem that may dissuade those that might otherwise seek legal work status are the three and ten-year re-entry bars. These bars prohibit people that have entered illegally from entering legally for the prescribed period (a long time to be away from one’s, albeit illegal, home). A streamlined immigration/legal work process with several thousand dollars of processing fee was suggested.

Following the end of the discussion panels we adjourned for a supper at the Finney County Fairgrounds. Many local KARL sponsors were present as well as a few members from KARL Class XIII. Amy Heinemann, Trista Brown-Priest, Andy Fahrmeier, all of class XIII gave a brief presentation on their class.

Following the meal Class XIV were received at the home of Ray and Dena Purdy where we decompressed and held the day’s wrap up session.

Day 2 – 11/2/17

Lucy Hesse

Submitted by Lucy Hesse, Wichita (pictured left)

Tours: Tyson Fresh Meats, Brookover Feedyard, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation
Speaker: Mark Gardiner, Gardiner Angus Ranch, “Ashes to Action”

After our first day learning about the various industries that have developed in Garden City, Kansas over the last 30 years, KARL students had the opportunity to see the industries in action first hand in order to gain a greater appreciation for each business’s contribution to the regional economy.

Tyson Fresh Meats Beef is a 24 hour a day 365 day a year slaughtering, packaging, and processing plant for beef products. The plant employs 3,000 people.

Most of the work on the floor is hard, repetitive, manual labor. Each person on the line has a single task that contributes to the transformation from cow to various end products. Each task is crucial to ensuring the safety of each piece of meat for consumption. KARL students witnessed the process nearly from start to finish.

The process starts out in the yard where the cow is guided from its pen in a winding pattern to reduce stress on the animal, to the kill floor where the cow is stunned and killed. The animal is then suspended upside-down on a conveyor line. As the animal travels down the conveyor line workers methodically remove various exterior parts (heads, hooves, and pelts) and interior parts (organs, blood, and bones). The carcass is sent to the freezer for 48 hours prior to being sectioned into various cuts of beef and steak on the processing floor and then packaged for shipment stores for sale. The whole process takes about five days from start to finish.

Pat Sanders, the Community Liaison, and Chance, a production supervisor spoke with KARL participants before and after the tour about the Tyson company’s relationship to the Garden City community and how it worked to maintain it’s labor base, including providing citizenship application and tuition reimbursement.

Brookover Feedyard has been in business in Garden City for over fifty years and has a total feeding capacity of 80,000 head. The manager, Brian Price, led a tour of the feed yard and explained how the organization was capable of moving 20,000 head per day.

Cattle are taken daily, into the receiving pen, where they are assessed by weight, breed, origin, condition arrived in, and health history. Cattle are then sorted into a permanent pen to receive rations based on their nutritional needs. Price showed off the yard’s bunk reader, a computer program that observes cattle and bunks several times daily to ensure feed is distributed in a consistent manner. He also showed students the mill on site at the feed yard and demonstrated a part of the procedure various raw ingredients go through in processing the feed.

Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is the primary electric service provider in Western Kansas, operating about 1200 miles of 115 kV and 345 kV transmission lines in 32 Kansas counties. It’s power sources are primarily coal-based, with 58 percent of its power coming from coal sources and 39 percent of its power from natural gas. The remaining comes from wind or solar energy.

The hosts, Kyle Nelson and Steve Ricard explained Sunflower’s generating capability and it’s role in trading energy within the southwest power pool and the integrated marketplace. By trading within the integrated marketplace, Sunflower is capable of utilizing a common system of complex tools and processes designed to maximize cost-effective power delivery to homes in rural Kansas. Following the presentation, KARL students had the opportunity to see parts of the Holcomb coal-powered plant in action, including the turbines, the coal trains, and speak with plant operators in the generation control room.

Mark Gardiner’s presentation was on the impact of the fire that burned 800,000 acres of land in Clark and surrounding counties in Southwest Kansas and Northwest Oklahoma. Thousands of cattle were lost, and millions of dollars in damage was accrued across the county

Gardiner, lost thousands of miles of fencing and multiple cattle, the entirety of his ranch was scorched, and his home was lost. However, his message was one of resilience. As he spoke, he reiterated the importance of dedication to your industry in the face of difficulties, the cruciality of hard work in order to get ahead, and the importance of community in overcoming a natural disaster.

Garden City has been faced with unique challenges, such as developing a strategic plan how to remain competitive as a rural community Kansas, By embracing industrial agricultural operations, Garden City has grown into a thriving, diverse, micropolitan area, but not without some growing pains associate it.

One of the sentiments that were echoed repeated throughout the evening was how Garden City compared to Tonganoxie, KS. Tonganoxie has a reputation for being “liberal” on social issues Tonganoxie recently rejected construction of a Tyson chicken plant, due to concerns regarding the treatment of the animals, and whether it was humane, in addition to environmental impact. Garden City, however, when faced with the potential to build a beef packing plant decades ago, decided to embrace it for the potential economic development it could bring to the region. Garden City has flourished since it decided to embrace its potential as an agricultural based economy. It was noted that “liberal” is not a shorthand for “open-minded”. Providing a value judgment based on social concerns without considering the economic impact hampers growth potential. By keeping an open mind as we continue learning about essential issues that face our state, we can be more attuned to novel ideas that can contribute to the growth of our communities.

Day 3 – 11/3/17

Matt Weeks

Submitted by Matt Weeks, Olathe (pictured left)

Royal Meadows Diary
The tour was led by Will Basher – a managing partner in the dairy who originally hailed from Texas.

Royal Meadows Diary in Garden City is a new, state of the art dairy facility that was built in 2000. Royal Meadows Dairy also recently acquired a new facility just south of Garden City that was previously known as Noble Diary.

Royal Meadows Dairy is owned by 6 investors – 2 with a majority stake.

Royal Meadows Dairy currently has a herd size of 20,000 head of cattle with milking nearly 9,000 cows each day – 6500 at the Garden City location and 2500 at the Noble Dairy location.  They produce close to 75,000 gallons of milk per day using a Double sixty parallel milking parlor in which a total of 60 cows are milked each time.

They milk around the clock and have a staff of 65 that runs that Garden City location and 25 that runs the Noble Dairy location.  Immigration is a huge issue for them, not only to help staff with the low-skill work but also with the increasingly complex and specialized work that needs to be done.  With agriculture becoming increasingly automated, they need workers who embrace and understand technology and can work with and repair complex machinery to keep the farm operating.

For Royal Meadows Diary to keep growing – they need to increasingly adopt new tools and technology to increase their efficiency and production.

To market their products, Royal Meadows Diary has traditionally had to ship product a long way to get to a plant – they typically referred to it as a “500-mile ride” to the Clovis, NM cheese plant. However, they are seeing more opportunity in the local economy to sell their milk products including the local powder plant located in Garden City that is coming online soon in cooperation with 12 local producers and the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).

Conestoga Energy Partners
Wind River Energy / Bonanza Grain
Wind River Energy and Bonanza Grain operates two independent businesses in a single location and includes ethanol production in addition to operating as a grain terminal and shipping point on the railway.  Together, they have been online for 10 years and has a combined 64 million bushel capacity – with a new storage being added currently.

Conestoga Energy Partners currently produces ethanol for use and sale strictly to California. They supply their products via railcars with a full train consisting of 110 – 122 railcars per shipment.

They are currently producing ethanol using a corn/grain sorghum (milo) blend with the predominant ingredient being corn – all produced within an approximate 60-mile radius of the plant.  Because of the close proximity of the growers who are supplying corn and milo to Conestoga, the need to have solid relationships with the local producers and provide premium pricing.

Conestoga Energy also operates sister plants in Liberal, KS and Loveland, TX –  they operate as stand-alone Limited Liability Corporations (LLC) but are managed by Conestoga Energy.

Their ethanol production currently requires 20-21 million bushels each year and they currently use a blend of 40 percent sorghum and 60 percent corn. Fermentation of the grain only takes 54 hours in the production cycle and the distillation process separates the alcohol from the solids.

Conestoga strives to have a nearly zero waste process and sell or re-use a number of the ingredients and byproducts that they produce. For instance – steam and heat that is generated in the fermentation process are captured and re-used later in the cycle. Additionally, the solids that are produced during the distillation process is sold to local and regional producers as feed – often referred to as “distillers grain”. The byproduct makes for a great feed and is commonly used in feed yards and dairies throughout Garden City and the region.

Conestoga Energy also ensures proper water management very seriously and in addition to capturing by-products of the ethanol production are re-used, they estimate that they use approximately 3 gallons of water for every gallon of Ethanol produced.