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THURSTON, Neb. -- With demand for its farm equipment booming, Thurston Manufacturing broke ground last year on the fifth major expansion in the family business' 40-year history.

The current multi-million-dollar capital project, scheduled for completed later this summer, will nearly double manufacturing capacity, and create more than two dozen new jobs.

The new hirings are expected to raise total employment to around 125, matching the population of the northeast Nebraska town of Thurston.

Thurston Manufacturing, which makes the Blu-Jet brand of fertilizer applicators and tillage equipment, and the Circle R brand of side dump trailers, has seen about 50 percent increase in sales in the past year.

"We've been very fortunate to be in the ag industry because that economy has been booming," chief operating officer Ryan Jensen said.

A move toward precision farming practices in the U.S. Corn Belt has heightened demand for the company's high-quality Blu-Jet products, Jensen said.

StripTill implements, for example, inject key nutrient into the soil, while preparing a narrow seedbed in an otherwise undisturbed field. The cutting-edge equipment cuts field passes and fertilizer rates versus traditional crop production practices.

In addition to growing domestic sales, the company also is has stepped up efforts to increase exports to overseas markets such as Africa, Asia and Europe.

CEO Layton Jensen, for example, recently pitched the company's products at a trade conference in Africa.

The latest expansion project in Thurston is expected to help fill the expected increase in interational orders.

The construction will add 43,000 square feet of space, with a new building and the extension of three existing structures.

The capital investment of $3 to $5 million also includes adding more robotic welding stations and a new painting operation.

"It wil put us in a leadership role for production efficiencies within our respective market segments, and allow us to increase value by lowering production costs while maintaining top quality product offerings," Layton Jensen said.

Thurston Manufacturing, which currently employs about 110 people, has added about 15 workers in recent months to help meet increased production, Ryan Jensen said. The company is still looking to fill about 10 jobs, primarily in the second and third shifts.

After the expansion is complete, another five workers likely will be added, he said.

Among the positions: welders, fabricators, material handlers, painters, shipping clerks sand administrative assistants.

Because of the town's small size, the majority of the workforce lives in other Siouxland communities, with some daily commutes in excess of 45 miles away.

Thurston Manufacturing was founded in by Layton Jensen's father, Wayne. Starting a large grain storage building in Thurston, Wayne Jensen developed a self-coupling hitch for tractors and wagons. The brand name "Blu-Jet" was derived from the color of the local high school's team colors, and the fast, sleek, or jet-like performance of the hitch.

The business later started producing injection tool bars for applying anhydrous, liquid and dry forms of nitrogen fertilizer, a nutrient essential for growing corn and other crops.

Wayne Jensen and his wife, Carla, are now retired. Layton Jensen, his wife, Carolyn, and their sons, Nick and Ryan, manage the business.

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