When Husqvarna Turf Care closes its Beatrice production facility later this year, it will take with it more than just the 390 jobs.
Though Husqvarna has only been in town since 1999, the company it purchased to establish its Beatrice presence, Yazoo/Kees Power Equipment, has deep local roots.
In purchasing Kees, Husqvarna took control of one of the state’s oldest employers.
Frederick Daniel Kees put hammer to anvil and produced his first husking hooks and pegs on Nov. 23, 1874, just seven years after Nebraska was admitted to the union.
At the time, Frederick Kees already owned a hardware store and gunshop. His businesses boomed as settlers passed through the area on their way west. He sold firearms, sewing machines and mowers, while continuing to manufacture his own products from a backroom workshop.
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In 1880, F.D. Kees began manufacturing flower stands and window brackets, and later washing machines, butter churns and domestic sewing machines were added.
By 1910, his booming business desperately needed a bigger location, so Kees moved to his first manufacturing plant at First and High streets in Beatrice. Later expansion would add production of electrical meter boxes, transformer housings, ice skates and roller skates.
The business continued to thrive until Kees’ death on Oct. 23, 1922.
Frederick’s son, John Kees, continued to grow the company, choosing to concentrate on the manufacturing of construction hardware items while also adding a line of electrical components.
In 1933, John and Dan Kees sold the company’s Brownie Roller Skates and ice skates interests to Chicago Roller Skate Company for a sound profit.
Kees Company again changed its focus in 1939 due to World War II.
Kees began manufacturing field kitchens and radio equipment for the American Armed Forces. However, fearing another post-war depression, the brothers agreed to sell the company.
In 1947 F.D. Kees Manufacturing was purchased by George Schaefer and his neighbor Frank Stangler. The Schaefer/Stangler purchased began yet another era of progress and expansion for the company. While maintaining the current product line, they also add new products to the growing list of construction hardware items.
Again, it became necessary to move the company to a larger facility, this time a new 18,000 square-foot facility at 700 Park Ave.
Stangler retired in 1963, selling his share of the company to Schaefer. Over the years, Schaefer added a line of lawn and garden equipment.
By the 1970s, Kees had again expanded its manufacturing, importing lawn and garden equipment to several foreign markets including England, Belgium, West Germany, France and Spain.
In 1980 George Schaefer Jr. took over as president of the company, and construction on a new 22,000 square-foot building began in 1985.
In June of 1987, F.D. Kees Manufacturing was sold to Snapper Power Equipment. At the time, Snapper chairman A.A. (Tony) Malizia told the Beatrice Daily Sun that expansion was inevitable, and more jobs would likely be added.
Instead, four years later Snapper sold F.D. Kees back to the Schaefer family.
A year later, in 1992, Kees begins selling its first gear-driven walk-behind lawnmower.
The Schaefers continued to run F.D. Kees until 1997, when Yazoo Power Equipment purchased the company and changed its name to Yazoo/Kees Power Equipment.
In October 1999 Swedish-based Husqvarna purchased Yazoo/Kees Power Equipment, establishing Husqvarna Turf Care Company.
In 2005, construction of Husqvarna’s current 274,000-square-foot facility near the Beatrice Airport, off U.S. Highway 77, was completed.
As part of the agreement for the new facility, Husqvarna received just over $2 million in tax increment financing for a 12-year-period.
TIF funding means the money the company pays in property taxes on any improvements to the land is refunded for city infrastructure expenses and plant construction costs. The tax dollars are first refunded to the city to pay for infrastructure, such as roads built specifically to accommodate the company. After those expenses are paid, the tax dollars are refunded to the company to serve as capital for the construction project.
After the TIF funding period ends, the company will pay taxes on the land and building without any refunds. The company continues to pay taxes on the land throughout the TIF funding period.
As for the future of the building, officials insist they’ll do all in their power to find a new tenant.
Nebraska state Sen. Norm Wallman first heard of the pending closure when asked for a comment from the Beatrice Daily Sun Thursday afternoon.
“I immediately stopped what I was doing and drove to the facility to hear firsthand what management knew about the situation,” Wallman said. “With an empty 274,000 square-foot facility and lost jobs, I will be working with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Department of Labor, Beatrice Chamber, and mayor to possibly find an industry to fill the vacancy.”
Beatrice Mayor Dennis Schuster agreed.
“The immediate issue is, we need to work on it very hard, a way to get someone in that building.”