February 29th, 2024

• Leader & Times


Not every business gets to say they have been in the same area for 50 years and remained stable. 

National Beef is one of the rare businesses, however, that can say that. Begun in 1968 by John Jacobson, the plant has been a major employer for Liberal and the surrounding area. And in those 50 years, there have been many changes seen. 

“The big thing about us is we’re part of the food industry and as such, we are a mature industry and over time the wants and needs of our customers have changed so we’ve had to make changes there,” Keith Welty, vice president of marketing at National Beef, said. “We’ve made adjustments in how we market as well as being commodity-based versus value added-based to meets those needs of our customers.”

Welty, who has worked for National Beef for 19 years, said those changes are part of the company’s progress throughout time. 

“National Beef has relationships with America’s best ranchers and farmers giving them access to the very best cattle,” Welty said. “The company processes and markets a comprehensive line of fresh beef, consumer ready and beef by-products and achieved annual sales 2017 of $7.4 billion dollars. The company sells its products through multiple customer channels of including retailers, restaurants, further processors, distributors and wholesalers in the domestic and international markets. Our focus is to continue to expand our value-added business, including branded boxed beef, consumer ready products, portion control direct-to-consumer products to meet the growing needs of the marketplace and help our customer differentiate.”

“When this plant opened up, and I remember some of those guys who started here like Marty and some of those guys, they started working here when the plant was being constructed,” Karl Ulibarri, human resources director fir National Beef, added. “We have people who have been here for more than 40 years and it’s their career. And you just watch everything grow and grow, we’re the second-largest beef processor in the world now, so we’re a large and stable company with a lot of great benefits. If you look at the community itself and look at all the involvement here at National Beef, you’d be surprised by all the contributions. There’s a lot we do here, we sponsor a lot of local events, we help sponsor a lot of local teams and just a bunch of different things.” 

And one of those benefits, according to some employees, is the chance to work with good people.

“Just working around all the people and we enjoy working with everyone, they’re all great,” National Beef employee Regina Chrisler said. “I’ve worked here 25 years, I work in the HR department. I love my job here, I’ve worked at some other parts of the plant here and we all cross trained so we can help each other. It’s been a great experience, I enjoy the people I work with, it’s a great place to work.”

“I would say the best thing is the people and the supervisors we have,” fellow employee Claudia Martinez added. “You get to know them and get to know so many things about everyone, they really become like family with all the time spent together. I’ve been here for 10 years and right now I work in the application area with the secretary helping take care of all the hours and the time cards and making sure everyone is paid correctly. I’ve also worked in production, knife work and I’ve worked with the orientation staff too, so I’ve done a little of everything.”

Another benefit, according to employee Jessica Bonilla, is the amount of opportunities available. 

“I would say the coolest part it’s the opportunity to train in different positions and having the chance to meet different people in different positions and departments,” Bonilla said. “I’ve been back here about a month and I currently work in the sales cooler area. I was previously trained on the scales, which I’m re-training in, and I’m working with Claudia with some other things. Before I left I’d been here three years and did a bit of everything. I decided to come back because there’s not another place that has such great benefits and great opportunities to train in different areas. And the supervisors and pay are excellent.”

With National Beef reaching the 50-year milestone, there is a great feeling of pride of the business having that longevity and stability. 

“National Beef has been under the same leadership since the early 1990s and our Liberal and Dodge City plants have been a big cornerstone of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Welty said. “The leadership has always been very dedicated, our employees are also dedicated and so great.”

“And we actually have generations working here. When I was growing up, my parents worked here and supported our family and then I came here,” Lupe Trujillo, assistant personnel director for National Beef, added. “And now I’ve got a couple of my own children working here, so there are generations here. So throughout the years, you see that. We have a lot of summer programs, so there are always a lot of students who come in right after graduation. We just offer a great family-friendly environment.”

“That’s right. Our parents provided for us while working here and now we’re providing for our own families,” Bonilla added. “There are entire families working here. If National Beef hadn’t been here, I don’t think either me or my siblings would have been able to get through school.”

And Liberal and the surrounding area are not the only ones with a high National Beef presence. National Beef and its partner National Carriers are seen all throughout the U.S. 

“We’re actually all around the world and we do export a lot of products that go everywhere,” Ulibarri said. “And it’s funny because when I go shopping I’ll take a look at the meat case and nearly every store you go in, the National Beef brand is there on products.”

“And then nearly everywhere you go there’s either a National Beef truck or a National Carriers truck being driven, even on TV,” Trujillo added. 

So with 50 years already under the company’s belt, what does the future hold?

“We’re just proud to be a large employer in Southwest Kansas and be part of the community,” Welty said. “Beef is a single ingredient and a highly nutritious food source for many of our customers’ operations and a critical part of the supermarket and the dinner plate, whether it’s a steak or hamburger or something else. We want to continue to be a provider of fresh, high-quality and highly nutritious beef to our customers.”

“It’s a great place to work. What I’ve learned through working in the office has been passed down and there’s a lot of knowledge around here,” Chrisler added.