For the 51st year, the greater Garden City area and beef industry workers from Kansas and surrounding states will take part in Beef Empire Days, an annual week-plus celebration and promotion of an industry that has long stood as the lifeblood of southwest Kansas.

Over the next ten days, locals will enjoy cattle and carcass judging, rodeo and cattle working events, hamburger feeds, socials and more, but the event, and the industry itself, goes beyond beef, said Stacey Carr, Beef Empire Days executive director.

“The way the economy works here, it is connected back to the beef industry in some way … We are just really wrapped around that part of it,” Carr said.

A hub of both large, corporate and smaller, independent feedyards and Tyson Fresh Meats, Finney County stands out slightly among its neighbors in a region run by beef.

The county is among the top three agriculture producers in southwest Kansas, partially because of its booming beef industry, which has only grown in past years, said Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the Finney County Economic Development Corp. According to the KDA, the county produced over 100,000 more heads of cattle and calves than Ford or Seward counties in 2016 and 2017.

Meat processed from carcasses is Finney County’s top agriculture, food and food processing sector by a long shot in terms of both employment and money contributed to the local economy, according to the KDA. Tyson employs over 3,500 people, making it the largest employer in Finney County and, said Tyson Community Liaison Pat Sanders, in southwest Kansas.

The meat processing sector also contributed about $1.85 billion to the local economy in 2018, according to the KDA. Beef cattle ranching and farming, including feedlots, the second highest sector in the county, employed another 655 people and produced an additional $364 million the same year, according to the KDA.

The beef industry’s success is tied closely, directly and indirectly, with other sectors of the Finney County’s economy, DuVall said. Grain farmers produce feed for local feedyards with low transportation costs, while other companies handle maintenance, construction and veterinary services for cattle producers or Tyson, she said. As more people move to town to work in the industry, demand grows for landlords, real estate agents and home builders. Cattle buyers from around the world regularly come to town and utilize local hotels, she said. And as the population grows, all economic sectors benefit.

“Nearly every industry, if not every industry, is touched by the beef industry,” DuVall said.

The industry feeds into Finney County and Garden City’s daily life, as well, Sanders said. Years ago, rural Finney County teachers structured their curriculum around the beef industry that employed most of their students’ parents. And today, the available jobs inform what Garden City is as a community.

For decades, the open positions have attracted immigrants from Vietnam, then Somalia, Myanmar, Haiti and Cuba, among other places, Sanders said. The new residents made the area their home, opening their own businesses and contributing to the city’s growth, she said.

And more recently, people from all backgrounds have taken ownership of their jobs and their community with newfound energy and confidence, Sanders said. Workers originally from other countries have moved into more leadership roles at Tyson and, outside its walls, employees are volunteering around town or in their children’s schools or extra-curricular activities, she said. She said new events celebrate a myriad of cultures in the center of Garden City’s downtown.

Sanders said she likes to think Tyson, as a major employer, is supporting its employees in a way that makes them more confident to give back to the community. And the more that involvement happens, the more new residents will see the city a progressive, welcoming place to live, Sanders said.

“It’s not just the plant that is the beef industry … A lot of things are tied to (it),” Sanders said.

As Garden City and Finney County grow, DuVall said the FCEDC has aimed to introduce and support other sectors, such as dairy, logistical transportation, retail and healthcare. But, the area still relies on and prospers largely from beef.

“Part of what we’ve really focused on is ensuring that we’re diversifying as we go, but we’re also very intent on making sure that our beef industry stays strong,” DuVall said.

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.