Mechanical shop expanding along Kansas Avenue

A major expansion is underway at Kuhn Mechanical, 101 E. Kansas Ave. in Arkansas City. Owner Mel  Kuhn said the business has nearly doubled in size during the past three years, and the 5,000-square-foot expansion would give them a larger shop and equipment storage area.

An ever-increasing workload has led one local business to undertake a major expansion project. Kuhn Mechanical, 1001 E. Kansas Ave. in Arkansas City, is working to more than double the size of its current facility.

Owner Mel Kuhn said his business has outgrown the current shop area, and more space is needed to do the sheet metal work for the various projects. He said the new area, which could be finished by next week, would also be used to store and protect equipment and perform needed maintenance.

“One of the biggest changes in the technology is the amount of equipment it takes to run a business,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of stuff to do it.”

Asked about the changes in technology that he has observed through the years, Kuhn just shook his head.

“Oh my gosh, I went from lead pipes with lead and Oakum joints, and I was there at the birth of plastic pipes,” he said with a laugh.

Kuhn said his business has almost doubled in size over the past two years. He has gone from a business that began as a computer on a card table in his son’s bedroom, to one that now employs more than 20 people.

“I knew what needed to be done and how to do it,” he said. “So I put it all together and started a company.”

Kuhn founded the company and has more than 50 years of experience, but he said his son Michael and Contract Manager Pam Miller have become the actual horsepower driving the business.

“What I see Michael and Pam doing are many of the things I was too timid to do,“ he said. “We’ve been talking about a building expansion for a long time. Michael just pulled the trigger, almost without asking.” 

The company is also offering a complete bathroom remodeling service. Kuhn said that Miller, the former manager of KSOK radio, has taken the company into a totally new area, one that he never attempted to pursue before.

“I didn’t have the time, the effort or the sales savvy that she brings to the table,” he said. “We now have a general contractors license so we can do these remodels.”

Kuhn Mechanical does plumbing, heat and air, sewer and drain and utility excavation. They also do a lot of design work for pumps and pump controls and have recently added a new pipe-bursting machine to the fleet.

Kuhn attributes his success to a combination of hard work, a fear of failure and a lot of luck. 

“There was a time we were one paycheck away from failure at all times and we’ve gotten over that,” he said. “I don’t have near as many sleepless nights as I used to have.”

One big obstacle is finding skilled help. He said he had been certified by Cowley College to start apprenticeship programs for trade jobs.

“You are not going to start out making grandiose money,” he said. “But realizing with hard work, dedication and perseverance, you can make some pretty good money.”

Kuhn Mechanical also has a registered apprenticeship program with the State of Kansas that sends pre-screened applicants — those who have a valid drivers license, can pass a drug test and have demonstrated a mechanical aptitude.  

“We’re one of the few who have taken advantage of this program,” Miller said. “It takes awhile to get to this point, but now we’re in a position where it is a partnership with the State of Kansas.”

Miller said the three-year program is geared toward those who do not have the funds to go to college.

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