Thursday nearly 70 people gathered at the Masonic Lodge in Independence to celebrate regional manufacturing by featured speakers from Spears Manufacturing in Caney, John Deere Coffeyville Works and Cobalt Boats in Neodesha. Montgomery County Action Council Executive Director Trisha Purdon served as the luncheon emcee.

"I would like to thank everyone for attending today's Celebrate Independence luncheon," said Purdon. "From the 65-plus people in the room, it's obvious you all are very interested in hearing the latest news from our three major manufacturers in and around the county."

Purdon said when Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Wilson told her who the speakers were going to be for the event, she quickly offered to be a business sponsor, "to actually give my commercial time to one of our amazing businesses in Independence." Standard Motor Products is celebrating 55 years of manufacturing in their current location and, as a company, they will celebrate 100 years in the fall.

Purdon introduced SMP's Plant Manager Jackie Pittman, who began by saying it was so exciting to be celebrating 100 years in business and thanked the chamber for the special table. She gave some company history and noted some of the products SMP manufactures. The company has more than 300 employees in Independence, which is due to increase with the addition of a third shift.

The first Celebrate Independence speaker was Geoff Collins, plant manager for Spears Manufacturing in Caney. Collins said Spears will celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. "Spears is still owned by one individual — Wayne Spears. We have been in Caney since 1981. We have five different facilities there," he said. "Since I started working at Spears in 1990, I think we have added on 12 or 14 times." The company is very proud of their safety record and are the second or third largest employer in Montgomery County. Spears product line offers a complete section of 1/8 inch through 12 inch injection molded fittings and fabricated fittings through 48 inches, many specialty products and manual and mechanically actuated thermoplastic valves in a variety of types, sizes and configurations. Spears customers come from all around the world.

"If you can imagine something you need in the plumbing industry that is made out of plastic, we probably make it," Collins stated. "If you wanted to see one of our products in a department store you could go up to Sayers Ace Hardware. One of Mr. Spears favorite comments he makes to places like Home Depot and Lowe's is, 'We are just really not a big enough company to accommodate you guys yet, but were are working on it.'" 

Next up to the podium was Steve Reid, business unit manager for John Deere Coffeyville Works. "John Deere started in 1837 so most of America knows about John Deere," he began. "They have a presence on six continents." JDCW is known as a world-class drivetrain business proudly innovating products, manufacturing with excellence and delivering distinct product quality. They design and build drivetrain components including transmission and pump drives used in John Deere Agricultural and Construction equipment. He gave examples of components for the 750/850 Crawlers, Motor Graders, 5M/5R Tractors and Hybrid Loaders. The company has nearly 900 people in the state of Kansas. He gave some history of the company beginning as Funk Manufacturing which began in Coffeyville in 1941. John Deere Coffeyville Works will celebrate 30 years in June.

"Where we are located in Independence and Coffeyville, we are in the middle of nowhere but we are close to everywhere," Reid said. "Within 500 miles, we can service most of our John Deere facilities. We service about 14 different John Deere facilities in the US, Canada and Mexico. That is a one day drive for a trucker. It's good to be in the middle of nowhere, close to everywhere." The company employs around 400 staff members in the Coffeyville location and they are family-oriented. They are proud to support the community and give back whenever they can.

Terry Clark, plant manager for Cobalt Boats in Neodesha, was the last speaker for the luncheon. Clark began by giving some little known facts about Cobalt Boats such as Pat St. Clair delivered boats from the east coast to the west coast in a 1969 Grand Prix equipped with a special trailer rigged up to haul two boats at a time. "Cobalt has been in business for 50 years. We have been recently purchased a year and a half ago by Malibu Boats," Clark noted. He said Cobalt Boats began in Chanute moving to Neodesha in 1970. The boat manufacturer builds 20 different types of boats including the Surf Class, Sterndrive, Outboards, and more. The company has grown to 480,000 square feet in 20 buildings. They ship their product all over the world including Australia and the Middle East.

"Something kind of neat about the products we build — we will build probably around 2,400 boats this year and probably fewer than 10 are the same," Clark explained. "Mass customization, you can go on the Cobalt website and pick out colors, pick out options. We have a 'Design Your Dream' feature which literally lets you customize your boat and put your fingerprint on what it will look like." Cobalt Boats was recently named as the 2019 Miami International Boat Show Innovation Award Winner. They currently employ a little more than 700 people in the Neodesha facility with about 250 employees living in Neodesha. 

Clark closed by saying how people ask him why would anyone build boats in Kansas. "It's our people. We have a great innovative spirit here. We build complex boats," he stated. "Employees are the reason we are in southeast Kansas."

Wilson thanked the speaker sponsor, Chris Moore with SEKTAM of Independence, who provided the luncheon meal, and Associate Chamber members Martha and Jerry Allison for making the lunch. A drawing was held for those possessing tickets for a chance to win Dot's Pretzels from Sayers Ace Hardware and Gifts, chocolates from Confectionate Fine Chocolates, an iced cookie from Casey's Creations Bakery and Deli, or a cupcake from Laurel Street Bakery.