Generations of people in Halstead have worked for conveyor belt manufacturer Legg Co., which has been around since 1939.
The community and the company marked a new chapter in 2013, when Legg was purchased by German-based ContiTech, a division of international automotive supplier Continental.
“Legg is a fantastic example of the kind of companies we have located in our county: smart and savvy business people,” said Mickey Fornaro-Dean, president of the Harvey County Economic Development Council.
“In the downturn, they looked at opportunities to diversify, control expenses to support labor and work force. That’s proven in the fact that they were noticed by an international company and purchased.”
Legg is the largest corporate employer in Halstead with about 85 employees, says Mayor Bill Ewert, and it’s a huge economic driver in the town of about 2,100 people, which is in Harvey County, about 30 minutes northwest of Wichita.
“Legg has had a stabilizing effect with all of the other closures we’ve had,” Ewert said. “During that time, they have grown and expanded their facility and it was because they identified products and were so progressive. … They know what they need to do to keep growing and expanding and make it happen. ... They’re a shining star in our local industry.”
As the recession settled in six years ago, a number of manufacturers closed in Halstead. They included Skyline Homes, Idaho Timber and Patrick Industries, which collectively employed more than 100 people, Ewert said
While others were closing, Legg was able to successfully find ways to grow.
“When (other companies) went out of business, it put a hurt on a lot of people in Halstead,” said Cody Knauss, head of production and safety at Legg, who has been at the company for 12 years.
“Luckily we grew and hired quite a few of the people from those places. All the supervisors at Skyline pretty much work for us.”
Under its new owners, the company is gearing up for further expansion, said Jan Faerber, Legg’s new president.
Faerber says the company has plans to grow by adding to its line-up of agricultural and industrial products and by expanding into other business sectors. He says it will also have a competitive edge now that it is able to produce belts that are up to 96 inches wide.
“(The goal) now is to maintain the good business Legg had and add business according to our plan, which is in place now. After that will be phase three to grow in the market,” Faerber said.
Legg and Continental currently have about 6 percent of the market share in the U.S., Knauss said.
“Continental is helping give us access to markets that Legg has not typically been involved in while also staying loyal to the markets that we do provide for,” Knauss said.
Legg produces more than 1.3 million feet of belt per year and consumes more than 3.2 million feet of textile. The compound/rubber total for last year was more than 10.7 million pounds, Knauss said.
One of the most important parts of transitioning to new ownership has been integrating the people, which Faerber says has gone smoothly.
Former Legg CEO and president Steve Chartier has remained with the company as a vice president, and former vice president Ron Marler has stayed on as a consultant.
“They contribute to our success and will continue to do so in the future,” Faerber said.
“I think it’s been very exciting and an interesting change,” Knauss said. “The way about doing business can be different, but there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. I think people are excited for the future of the company, what it is they want to do, and excited about new business opportunities that could come our way being associated with Continental.”