Advanced manufacturing, which leverages cutting-edge technologies and processes to enhance quality and capacity, has proved invaluable in medical, aerospace, pharmaceutical, robotics and electric vehicle industries. That list is expanding, as is the need for locations to establish new advanced manufacturing facilities. One up-and-coming place is right here in the Greater Manhattan region.
With our highly skilled workforce, capacity for scaling production and great quality of life, pioneering companies like Radiation Detection Technologies Inc. (RDT) and Ultra ICE have chosen Manhattan as their operating base and continue to grow and evolve in this emerging field.
Radiation Detection Technologies Inc. (RDT) designs, develops, and manufactures nuclear detection and semiconductor-device components and instruments. RDT was founded out of Kansas State University’s Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Semiconductor Materials And Radiological Technologies (SMART) Laboratory in 2011. The company started with one employee and has grown to more than 20 full- and part-time employees.
“We started the company to manufacture and develop radiological- and semiconductor-based technology for the U.S. government and various industries in the U.S. and across the world. We work with many government agencies and have been awarded over 24 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, which we’ve used to advance our technology,” said Steven Bellinger, president and CEO, RDT.
Ultra ICE manufactures electronic components for commercial and military aviation and aerospace applications. ICE Corporation was founded in a dorm room at K-State in 1973. The company started by producing electronics for automotive, agriculture and many other industries before specializing in aviation electronics. Ultra Electronics, which is based in the United Kingdom, purchased the company in 2014.
“When we expanded in the aviation niche, it was a propellant for our growth. We were a small business that grew into large business. We did the right things at the right time and got recognized by a large corporation. We design, manufacture and test all of our products in Manhattan. We do everything, soup to nuts, here,” said Randy O’Boyle, president of Ultra ICE Precision Control Systems.
Having a pool of potential employees that can execute a vision is key to success. From graduates of K-State to apprentices coming from area technical colleges to transitioning service members at Fort Riley, there’s no shortage of extremely talented workers in the area.
“We have talked to folks on the coasts that are having a hard time finding qualified candidates and we haven’t had that problem here. The fact that you have the university, technical colleges and the military installation providing trained students and professionals with strong backgrounds makes it fairly straightforward to find employees,” Bellinger said. “We also find a lot of people in the region who are trainable, work hard and pay attention to detail. We’ve brought them in and trained them on what we do and how we do it. We hire quite a few interns out of K-State that we train and teach about manufacturing and radiation detection. We also hire various staff out of Manhattan and Wamego.”
O’Boyle praised the ingenuity, work ethic and self-reliance of the local workforce.
“There’s a pioneer spirit here that’s still alive and thriving. The same creative ingenuity that helped people survive the journey across the prairie is alive and well on farms across the state,” he said. “We’ve got ‘farm smart’ kids. If something breaks down in the field, they can’t call AAA. They figure out how to fix it with wire and duct tape.”
From these modern-day MacGyvers to trailing spouses, O’Boyle says Ultra ICE looks for — and finds — creative thinkers who may not fit a typical recruiting mold but find a niche in this emerging technology.
“It’s not just about the machinery. It’s about the engineers and technicians who can think and design in 3D. Having the university here is a force multiplier on the advanced manufacturing side, but the kind of engineering we do isn’t taught in any school,” he said. “One of the neat things we do is train from the bottom up. We get job applicants who are extremely intelligent but may not have a college degree. We developed a system to bring people on and train them and develop those skills. We’re pretty proud of that.”
Although the university and military installation are major landholders in the region, there’s room for larger businesses to establish a foothold and smaller businesses to expand. Companies can find some real estate opportunities offered by the university, as well as larger plots and shovel-ready sites farther out.
Bellinger is familiar with both sides. Early on, he navigated the waters of leasing from K-State. Now, as RDT has grown, so has its need for a larger facility.
“We’re outgrowing our space and are looking at putting up a larger building between Manhattan and Wamego that can handle higher throughput production,” Bellinger said.
For advanced manufacturing companies, having the ability to do a design-build project can be more beneficial than leasing existing space.
“We can develop the way we want to with a custom build. There’s a lot of nuance in the utility and space requirements for a clean room and processing equipment. The height requirements alone mean there’s not much existing space that would fit our needs for high-tech manufacturing. But there’s definitely space here that’s ready for a green build,” Bellinger added.
The Greater Manhattan region has numerous resources and support networks. From a strong entrepreneurial community to burgeoning ag tech companies like HitchPin and U.S. Cattle Trace, there’s an ecosystem here that fosters innovation and growth. Various entities at K-State like Innovation Partners and the Technology Development Institute also encourage home-grown business development.
Bellinger also praised the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce for its help getting RDT established in the area.
“They’re easy to talk to. They’re responsive. They have good relationships with the surrounding cities,” he said. “They worked with us to find space and identify regional and state-related tax and hiring incentives. They worked with Wamego to put together a portfolio that articulated what we would get being in Manhattan-city proper and relative to Manhattan in more rural areas.”
When RDT expanded its international clientele to include many international companies, the chamber also helped put paperwork together to meet the manufacturing certificate of origin requirements for the import/export program.
“When we talk to them, it is apparent they have our best interests in mind,” he added.
Sustaining and growing business means employers must operate in an area that’s attractive to employees. A recurring theme in the region is the high quality of life people enjoy here.
“Manhattan and the surrounding area are lovely. We have many entertainment venues, outdoor activities, and nice restaurants. It’s somewhere between a small town and larger city like Kansas City or Topeka. A lot of staff members have enjoyed the small-city offerings of Manhattan and Wamego and wanted to settle down in the area,” Bellinger said.
Residents of Manhattan and Wamego appreciate the balance between the relaxed, rural setting and the available amenities of bigger cities.
“There’s a lot going on, yet you still have that small town feel,” O’Boyle said. “It’s got all the luxuries one could need. It’s got a good school system. There’s a lot of opportunity.”
For more information or to talk with someone about how your business or organization could benefit from locating in the Manhattan region, please reach out to the team at the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership or 785-776-8829.