Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Trailers, manure spreaders, and other agriculture equipment
The venerable family-owned company on the Eastern Plains manufactures innovative tools for an ever-changing agricultural industry.
A sugar beet farmer by trade, Kenneth Hitchcock starting building equipment for his own use. Most of what was on the market was for smaller farms as he was scaling up his operation. "He didn't have the machinery for the job," says Duane Hitchcock, Kenneth's son and president of Hitchcock Inc.
In the late 1950s, Kenneth came up with an innovative "sled bedder" for shaping the soil into beds as well as planting and cultivating sugar beets. "It actually would guide itself," says Duane, describing it as an early example of precision agriculture. "[Kenneth] invented the guidance system. It was not electrical like today. It was a mechanical system."
In the company's early years, manufacturing was seasonal. "He'd manufacture in the wintertime, in the slack season," says Duane.
The operation used farm labor for manufacturing, which moved from the farm to a facility in Burlington in 1968 to accommodate growth. Demand continued to increase, and the decision was made to split the farming and manufacturing into two separate businesses. "In 1975, we decided we had to manufacture year-round," says Duane. "That's when my brother and I took over."
But Colorado's sugar beet industry collapsed in the mid-1970s, and Hitchcock Inc. needed to shift gears to survive. "In the late '70s, sugar beets left the country, so we had to diversify and go into something different," says Duane.
In 1978, the company opened a dealership for Valley Irrigation systems and made adaptors that would connect to other irrigation systems."Back in the day when we started selling irrigation equipment, there were 13 different dealers in Burlington, Colorado," says Duane. "Now there's one." That meant there was plenty of demand for components for "orphan" systems in the field after their manufacturers went out of business.
Hitchcock Inc. also takes on a wide variety of custom projects. "Anything somebody wants to build, we'll build it," says Duane. Over the years, that's included truck-mounted "elevating offices" that replaced cowboys on patrol at Cargill's feedlots, a movable roof above the radiators at Goodland's power plant, and a waterskier-towing system for the 1968 World's Fair in San Antonio.
The catalog has steadily expanded in the last 25 years. "We started building end-dump trailers in '96," says Duane. "That evolved into chain-floor trailers, and that evolved into manure spreaders."
About half of Hitchcock Inc.'s employees work in production at the company's 45,000-square-foot facility in Burlington. Growth has averaged about 10 percent in recent years. "You just need to keep growing all of the time," says Duane.
Duane says that roughly 90 percent of the business is related to agriculture, but the company takes on fabrication, demolition, excavation, and pipeline jobs as well. "We do about everything you need done," he says.
Challenges: "Help," says Duane. "We need a CNC plasma cutter guy, a machinist, and a serviceman to go work on sprinklers."
Some positions have been open for a year, meaning experience is not necessarily a prerequisite. "If we think they have potential, we train them," he says, noting that Burlington's population is about 4,000 people. "It's difficult. We don't have the pool to pull from that a lot of people do."
Opportunities: Growth in numerous geographic markets. "We've got stuff everywhere," says Duane, noting that Hitchcock Inc. has customers in across the U.S. as well as such countries as Australia and Ukraine. "We just need to saturate it more."
Needs: "Our biggest need is labor," says Duane. "We also need more room, but we can handle that ourselves."