Kearney company's growth soars with exports

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Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 12:00 am

The expansion of international sales has translated into growth at home for Baldwin Filters of Kearney, Neb.

The maker of air and fluids filters for commercial, industrial and agricultural vehicles will break ground May 29 on a 400,000-square-foot distribution center in Kearney, nearly four times the size of the current Kearney distribution center. All told, the company will have nearly 1 million square feet at its headquarters.

Baldwin was named the Exporter of the Year on Friday at the Midwest International Trade Association's 2013 World Trade Conference at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista. Historically the large majority of Baldwin's sales were in North America; today sales outside North America are nearly half the company's business as Baldwin has expanded its reach into Mexico, China, Europe and elsewhere.

Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann recognized the company's growth from its humble beginnings.

“Many small businesses have had their start in a basement or garage. Our exporter of the year is no exception,” he said.

J.A. Baldwin started the company in Wisconsin in 1936 and moved it to Kearney in 1953, setting up manufacturing in airfield hangars idled after World War II. Today Baldwin makes more than 19,000 individual products and ships to dozens of countries.

The new distribution facility represents a $40 million investment, company President Sam Ferrise said in a statement.

“It's indicative of our continued commitment to the Kearney area, and should have a significant economic impact for some time to come,” he said. “Baldwin has continued to grow in our domestic and international markets, driving the need for this expansion.”

Now owned by the CLARCOR group of manufacturing firms, Baldwin employs 1,100 in Nebraska, part of a worldwide workforce of 2,500.

State and federal officials are working to expand the international market for Midwestern products and commodities, speakers at the conference said.

Heidemann touted the new Nebraska Center China trade office, aimed at making inroads in what is Nebraska's fourth-largest and fastest-growing export market.

And the Obama administration sees trade expansion as a way to create jobs at home, said Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the United States Trade Representative. He said the 2010 National Export Initiative has created 1.3 million American jobs supported by exports, and has increased the value of U.S. agricultural exports by 44 percent, to $145 billion, including $6 billion from Nebraska.

In 2011, new free trade agreements were signed with Korea, Columbia and Panama, Siddiqui said, and more trade agreements are in negotiations: the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership.

During his visit to Nebraska, Siddiqui met with executives from Greater Omaha Packing and Lindsay Corp, along with a roundtable group of commodities producers. One issue that's a barrier for beef exporters is the use of ractopamine, a growth drug used in the U.S. but banned in China, Russia and the European Union. Packers like Greater Omaha have to separate beef shipments; negotiating trade agreements that allowed the use of the drug would remove a barrier, Siddiqui said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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