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Kahler Automation celebrates 30 years

Above: Kahler Automation's new CEO, John Christ.

FAIRMONT– Kahler Automation is wrapping up its 30th year in 2021. The Fairmont-based business has welcomed several new changes this year, including new CEO, John Christ.

Kahler Automation plans, designs, fabricates and implements automated industrial control systems for fertilizer and chemical dispensing products and grain dryer controls. About 90 percent of what Kahler does is in agriculture, though it’s branched out to some sister industries. Kahler Automation’s main customer base is in the midwest, but it now has customers all over the country.

The business actually began as Kahler Electric in 1949 by Roy Kahler. By 1980, son Wayne started an automation division and by 1991, Kahler Automation was established as an independent business.

While Wayne retired in 2015, he’s remained active in the business as chairman of the board. The family is also very much involved in the business. Chantill Kahler Royer is the Chief Financial Officer and Logan Kahler is the visionary of the company, as well as the software engineering manager.

Christ has more than 30 years of experience in the automation industry. He’s from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and was most recently living in the Chicago area. He had been working for Rockwell Automation for 15 years when he decided to update his LinkedIn profile. Christ said a recruiter called and asked if he would be interested in interviewing for the CEO position at Kahler Automation.

“It prompted me to understand what Kahler does. I got to see the website, which I think is fantastic. I was really impressed,” Christ said.

He went through the process and and moved to Fairmont with his wife, Pamela. Christ started at Kahler Automation in March.

Of course, the pandemic has affected the business and its 80 employees, just as it has many others.

Christ called Covid “disruptive” but he said employees have also pitched in to help if staff is out. He said the real challenges that have stemmed from Covid are supply chain issues.

“It’s really affected us. Everyone in this industry is affected. It’s harder to get components but we’ve done a lot of unique things to design around it,” Christ said.

While many of the offices are empty now as a lot of the staff is able to work remotely, Christ said they’re still in need of the manufacturing space.

“I think the building is the right size for us. We have growth targets to do more. I think we’re well-positioned for the future and some of the targets we have set for ourselves,” Christ.

Kahler Automation has done several expansions over the years and currently covers 36,000 -sq-ft.

As for the empty office spaces, Christ said they’re starting to change the way they’re thinking in terms of how, and where, people work.

“If it’s more convenient and flexible and we can keep people for a lot of years, then we should be offering that and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Christ said.

He said this year they hired a product manager who lives in Oklahoma.

“In the past we’d probably say you need to get to Fairmont, but we need to change that because it’s a tougher market to hire people,” Christ explained.

He said they don’t have a high turnover, but have had some retirements and have struggled a little to fill positions. Right now they have about five jobs posted, which are open to anyone, anywhere.

“It’s much harder to hire people right now,” he explained.

Christ said they’ve also changed their ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, so there’s a new look and feel to how they track inventory and projects.

“We’ve changed our customer relationship management system. We moved that to a different system which allows us to be more in-tune with our customers and communicate better with them,” Christ said.

They’ve also changed their HR system to a new platform as well.

“There have been a lot of changes for us in the past year. We’ve managed through it. It’s to make us better and make our customers more profitable,” Christ said.

Kahler Automation cares not only about its customers, but about the local community. The family and the business have continued to support local organizations like Kinship and the Red Rock Center for the Arts. It’s also shown support to school programs like robotics and the construction trades academies. In 2019, Kahler Automation put $25,000 toward Fairmont High School’s new vocational center, which is currently being built.

As for what’s coming, Christ said they have some new and exciting products coming out.

“We’re constantly adding new ideas and new products. One of the things I bring is a new, fresh look at what we’re doing. We’ve been doing what we know for 30 years and we’re really successful at it. There’s a lot of smart, innovative people here,” Christ said.

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