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It's a family affair at CF Industries' facility in Verdigris
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It's a family affair at CF Industries' facility in Verdigris

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Each year the 195 employees at CF Industries’ manufacturing facility in Verdigris produce enough liquid fertilizer to treat 8 million acres of corn or 16 million acres of wheat.

Those amounts are comparable to all of the corn grown in Minnesota, or all of the wheat grown in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The facility also produces and sells enough ammonia to provide plenty of nutrients to fertilize an additional 3.5 million acres of corn or 6.5 million acres of wheat.

For some more perspective, that acreage is 1.5 times the amount of corn grown in Texas or the amount of wheat grown in Oklahoma and Nebraska combined.

But it’s not the nitrogen and ammonia plant’s output that really makes the manufacturing facility special.

It’s the facility’s top-notch employees who bring a family spirit to the plant, the facility’s general manager Clinton Herring said.

The tight-knit vibe isn’t too surprising, because many of those employees are actually family.

During the four decades that the plant has been operational, families from Claremore, Verdigris, Chelsea and other nearby cities have devoted multiple generations to working at the faciliity.

An example is Clinton Deaver, a process technician who began working at the facility in August 1977.

Two of Deaver’s son-in-laws and three members of his wife’s family currently work at the facility with him, Deaver said.

“This is our 40th year in existence,” Herring said. “We were started in 1975, and employees’ kids work here, and their kids work here.”

“It’s been really nice to bring that family spirit here into the workplace at Verdigris,” Herring continued.

Even if they’re not related by blood or marriage, the time that the employees spend at the facility and high average tenures make them so close that they might as well be related.

“We’re kind of like family,” said Mark Bethel, 60, a production supervisor who started working at the facility in April 1984. “We spend more time with each other than we actually do with our own family.”

Multiple companies have owned the facility during its four decades. Illinois-based CF Industries, a huge public company with locations across the country and in Canada, took over operation of the plant from Terra Industries in 2010 when CF Industries took over the rival fertilizer company.

Several current employees have been with the plant since the beginning. When it was launched in 1975 the fertilizer producing facility was known as Agrico Chemical Company, which was part of Williams Company.

Two of the company’s original employees include Marc West, 61, and David Kaiser, 60.

Both men were part of Claremore High School’s 1972 graduating class and started working at the facility just weeks apart from each other during May and June 1975 in entry-level positions.

West now works as a training day supervisor and Kaiser works as an offsite day supervisor.

“I tell the young guys, you come here and you land a job then you find out you’ve got a career,” West said. “

And that’s what you need to grow.”

When asked about “the hook,” the reasons that he and others stick with the company for the duration of their careers, Kaiser pointed to the facility’s safety record, salary, benefits, location and job stability.

“We’re the premier job in Rogers County,” Kaiser said. “It’s a big economic boost to the area. I don’t think the community recognizes how much money this company pumps into the economy.”

As part of the perks of working at the facility, Bethel also pointed to CF Industries’ dedication to nonprofits and charitable causes dear to its employees’ hearts.

CF Industries recently made a large financial contribution to the new agriculture program in the nearby Foyil school district. Bethel’s son works as the district’s agriculture teacher.

Of course, not all of CF Industries employees have decades of experience at the plant.

Process engineer Devon Warren, 30, started working at the facility on Sept. 28 of last year.

Her coworkers’ experience is helpful, she said.

“The majority of this plant has been here 20+ years,” Warren said. “That helps me as a process engineer to do my job better. They’ve seen things, tried things.”

Casey Smith 918-732-8106

casey.smith@tulsaworld.com

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