If you want to see what it is like for a small-town Kansas company to grow into a global manufacturer, take a look at Osborne Industries, located in the small north-central Kansas town of Osborne. In the 45 years since it was founded, the company has grown to design, manufacture and distribute a range of items including medical tubs, light-armor military casings and window panels for buses.
The 1970s were, however, a difficult time for agricultural communities like Osborne. When farmers and farm workers were finding themselves out of work because of slow markets and technological innovations, local business leaders decided to turn this new economy to the town’s advantage.
“They saw an exodus of people from rural and Western Kansas because it was taking less people to do the same amount of work on farms. So, they got together and thought, ‘We need to come up with an idea for a business to keep employment and keep people in the area,’” explains Jim Hindman, Osborne Industries marketing representative.
Their solution was to start a manufacturing company that became Osborne Industries. Within a short time, their new company was moving out of a building on the local 4-H grounds and into a 243,000-square-foot facility. The company also expanded beyond producing agricultural equipment and developed a resin-injection molding system to produce a range of products across industries. Osborne keeps an in-house engineering staff and a team of software, electrical and mechanical engineers to develop their products. Though an anchor business in the town of some 1,400 people, Osborne Industries is also active globally.
“We attend a lot of trade shows all over the world to stay abreast of what the industry is interested in,” says Hindman.
Their solution was to start a manufacturing company …
Being the Boss
The ultimate responsibility for keeping current and ensuring the company’s future growth rests with the entire staff of Osborne Industries. Since 2001, the company has been employee-owned, and in 2007, Osborne Industries became 100% employee-owned.
The company’s shares are held in an employee-owned trust and allotted to employees on a proportional basis. Each year, an independent appraiser assesses the value of the total shares, which sets the value of each employee’s holdings.
“Each year, employees earn stock into the company,” says Amy Conrad, the firm’s marketing manager—and partial owner. “Each one of us has a vested interest in ensuring that we are successful as a company.”