When I was in junior high, I remember my mom trying to teach me to crochet. I could never do it, beyond doing a string of crochet knots because my fingers just didn't seem to want to twist this way or that way. My interests in yarns have never extended beyond that "experiment" until recently, when I, and fellow Leadership Scotts Bluff participants, toured the Brown Sheep Company, which is about six miles west of Scottsbluff.
Most of us on the tour hadn't been to Brown Sheep Company. I think only one individual raised her hand, but she also was the only knitter in the group. Although knitting and crocheting have seen a revival in recent years, Peggy Wells, owner of the company that her father Harlan Brown started in the 1980s, said the company is a rarity in the United States as more companies move to overseas locations.
Even in its rare form, Wells said the company is the largest producer of natural fiber yarns in the United States. With the company producing 12 different lines of yarn, Wells said the company couldn't keep up with the demand for its product and replaced 90 percent of its equipment, investing $2.2 million and doubling production. Most of the equipment has been brought over from Europe.
It's a little amazing to think that a Mitchell company exports yarn throughout the world, to countries such as Germany, England, Australia and New Zealand. The company also imports some of its natural fibers from throughout the world, such as silk from China and mohair from South Africa. The plant's operations also stretch beyond the borders of Nebraska, with growers in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska accounting for half the wool used in the plant, with some products being trucked to South Carolina to be cleaned and even purchasing mohair from Texas. Wells said the
"Our future looks like it is time to get a bigger corner of the world industry," Wells said. "You have to be a world player right here."
While it might seem odd that a company such as Brown Sheep Company is located in Nebraska, Wells said, "Honestly, I don't think this plant could exist anywhere else." She said the company's Panhandle location allows the plant to manage costs with low overhead, as it's located on the family farm, and has a quality labor force.
Since visiting Brown Sheep Company, I've seen its yarns touted all over the Internet. The company sells exclusively to small yarn stores throughout the country. Wells said the company primarily employs that sales strategy so that customers can visit the store and receive firsthand help on their projects. It seems to be working well for the company, which Wells said is the number one seller of wool yarn in the United States and Canada.
I'm not a "crafty person" - the phrase I use to describe people who are lucky enough to have more talents in their fingers than I do - I found the tour of Brown Sheep Company quite interesting. One of the purposes of Leadership Scotts Bluff is to introduce and educate people on areas they may not be familiar with on a day-to-day basis, and I can tell you that I normally wouldn't have visited Brown Sheep Company.
I'd urge anyone who hasn't visited the plant to take a tour, and you can also buy some of that "Quality Yarn for Quality People" at the plant's store.