KEARNEY — What’s the key to keeping a factory open for 50 years?

“It takes loyalty and the commitment of the employees. If you don’t have the people you don’t have a factory,” said Dale Johnson of Kearney.

Normally Johnson wouldn’t be on the grounds of the Eaton Corp. factory in east Kearney at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s because he works the third shift from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. However, on Wednesday he interrupted his nap to be in the factory’s 50th anniversary photo.

At 2:20 p.m., as Wednesday’s first shift was concluding and second shift employees were arriving, they filed toward the front lawn to find places in two giant numerals: a “5” and a “0.” Eaton personnel drew the large letters on one of the factory’s computer-aided design and drafting devices.

“We put this on the AutoCAD,” Human Resources Manager Tom Anderson said about the bands of yellow tape that formed outlines for the two numerals. As they walked onto the factory’s front lawn, employees in gray 50th anniversary T-shirts filled in the spaces between the strands of yellow tape.

An estimated 300 or more of the factory’s nearly 500 employees — including some third-shifters — posed together as a drone piloted by 281 Studio of Hastings flew over the Eaton crew to collect still photos and video of the occasion.

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“It’s a little more exciting to shut down the factory for an event like this. Usually it shuts down because of an electrical outage,” Plant Manager Landon Lueshen said as team members left the factory for Wednesday’s photo and video shoot.

The 281 Studio crew flew several passes over the big “50,” and on the final pass Eaton employees waved.

The video and photos will be a part of a workforce recruitment effort in which Eaton and other regional employers partner with 281 Studio on the Pathways project. The studio is producing videos to be shown to students in 40 schools so the youths can learn about jobs that are available and what training is needed to land the jobs.

The videos also will be useful during this year’s 50th anniversary observances, which will climax on Sept. 14 with a company banquet.

“The videos will show the retirees what we’re doing now,” Lueshen said.

Other plans are coming together as an employee committee charts how the anniversary year will unfold.

The Kearney factory opened in 1969 to manufacture valves and gears for the automotive industry. On an average day, the Kearney team produces 300,000 valves and 30,000 gears.

In the past two years the Eaton team has won several important awards. In 2018, the Kearney Chamber of Commerce named Eaton its Outstanding Business of the Year. Kearney also was one of only two Eaton facilities that won the corporation’s Stover Award in 2018. The award recognizes outstanding voluntarism.

Eaton again was recognized for its voluntarism and community involvement as a recipient of the 2019 Kearney Hub Freedom Award.

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