LINCOLN – Preferred Popcorn of Chapman and Valmont Industries of Valley have been named Nebraska Manufacturers of the Year. Preferred Popcorn received the award for small-sized manufacturers, while Valmont received the award for large manufacturers.

The companies were honored at the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Annual Manufacturing Summit. The award recognizes Nebraska manufacturers that implement innovative ways to conduct business through the use of products, processes, technologies and strategies.

“Preferred Popcorn and Valmont Industries showcase exactly how the Nebraska values of hard work and ingenuity make our state an accelerator for advanced manufacturing,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Our manufacturing edge is one of the leading contributors to state GDP growth.”

Headquartered in Chapman, Preferred Popcorn is a farmer-owned popcorn producer, processor and supplier, with growers now in seven states, 40 employees in Nebraska, and exports to 70 countries. The company, founded in 1998, is widely recognized for its quality products, including several varieties of popcorn for large and small clients, and strong customer service.

“Innovation is almost a continuous process, from measuring the moisture of the popcorn, automated systems for turning fans on and off, to efficient packaging,” said Norm Krug, president, CEO and founder of Preferred Popcorn. “We have a plant that can unload a semi, process and clean the product, and send it out the door to customers in 45 minutes to an hour, all run by exceptionally skilled operators.”

In 2017, Preferred Popcorn pursued a $6 million expansion project, adding 22,500 square feet to the Chapman facility, 10 employees, and more growing opportunities for local producers. The project more than doubled its operational capacity. Nebraska is the No. 1 exporter of popcorn due to companies like Preferred Popcorn.

Innovating faster than competitors has been a staple of Valmont Industries’ growth and success, since it was founded in 1946 in Valley, according to President and CEO Stephen Kaniewski. Taking off when Robert B. Daugherty purchased the licensing rights to manufacture the center pivot irrigation system, the company is a global leader of engineered products and services for infrastructure and water-conserving irrigation equipment and solutions for agriculture. It has 10,000 employees and 86 manufacturing locations in 23 countries around the world, serving customers in 100 countries.

“Talent is the key to our ability to innovate,” Kaniewski said. “In our engineering projects division, we aren’t just building custom light fixtures, we’re building combination light poles, with wireless capabilities, parking detection and security cameras.”

Valmont continues to be a pioneer in water management, constantly exploring ways to grow more food with less water.

Nebraska is home to 1,990 manufacturers employing more than 100,000 workers. One in 10 jobs is in manufacturing. The industry contributed approximately $13 billion annually to Nebraska’s Gross State Product. Average annual wages in manufacturing exceeded $62,500 in 2017, the most recent year data is available.

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