When you write about a company for more than 20 years you get to know some of its particulars, and the way it does business. For years I've covered Kubota working to help tell the story of their innovations to the market, their expansion and more. This week the company hit a novel number from its Gainesville, Ga., plant - 1 million wheeled vehicles.
That plant, which fired up in 1988 to make implements like loaders and backhoes, got a conversion in 1994 with company execs decided to build the T Series Kubota tractor, a smaller garden tractor, in the facility. That was a sea change, for years Kubota was known for importing quality compact machines, and now they were building something here!
Currency fluctuations were one driver for the move, and for Kubota it allowed the firm to expand capacity as popularity of its small machines increased. But that first model tractor that was built in Gainesville was the beginning. This week the 1 millionth machine - an RTV1120D utility vehicle - rolled into a special dignitary-filled ceremony under a big tent outside the plant.
The governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, was on hand, as were local dignitaries including the mayor of Gainesville, the chairman or the Hall County Board of Commissioners. Some city council members were present who had been around when Kubota picked Northeast Georgia to site the plant. It was a big day.
As Brian Arnold, chief manufacturing officer, Kubota Manufacturing of America points out, it took the company 21 years from 1994 to hit the 1 million mark. Arnold says the next million will come faster - in seven years. They're turning up the heat on the market with a 500,000 square foot plant that opens in spring 2017 dedicated to RTV production. In fact the new facility will build a new RTV every two minutes.
As for the dignitaries, there were also Kubota officials from Japan who have been with the facility from the start, and they brought Kubota culture to Georgia. Their work is paying off, as the milestone will attest.
The special millionth machine was outfitted with a big LED lightbar, premium sound system, special wheels and decals denoting its place in history. And to commemorate the event, the machine isn't for sale. Instead it will be auctioned off this week during the national dealer meeting as a fundraiser for the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
This group, which Kubota also supports in other ways, helps veterans who want to farm but have challenges to overcome. It's a worthy cause and links agriculture with veterans who want to come back and farm. As Ag Sec. Tom Vilsack has often pointed out 16% of the population lives in the country but provides 40% of those who go into the service, many of those "country boys and girls" want to farm. This group helps make that happen.
As for Kubota? With that target of hitting the next million-machine mark so soon, it's clear the company refuses to stand still.