Field narrows to eight for ‘Coolest thing made in Nebraska’ contest

Tourney seeks to boost image of manufacturing jobs, industry

By: - September 6, 2023 8:12 pm

(Courtesy of Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry)

LINCOLN — Eight finalists have emerged in this year’s “Coolest Thing Made in Nebraska” competition — and the innovations range from flyover whiskey to an all-terrain wheelchair and the so-called RAT Hub.

Nebraskans now have until the close of Sept. 10 to vote in this next round of the tournament, which was created to be a fun image-booster for the state’s manufacturing industry.

Nebraska Manufacturing:

  • Accounts for nearly 12% of state’s total economic output, employing 9.86% of the workforce.
  • Total output in 2021 was $16.8 billion.
  • About 100,000 manufacturing workers in 2021, and more than 1,500 firms.
  • Average annual compensation exceeds $66,000.

Sources: NE Manufacturing Alliance, National Manufacturing Association

Each voter is permitted one vote per matchup, per round. (The first round garnered more than 30,000 votes from across the state.)

Organized by the Nebraska Manufacturing Alliance and Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, this marks the second annual competition. Nebraska Public Power District also is a partner.

“It’s all about highlighting the cool things made right here in our own backyards and the proud, skilled, innovative, and hardworking Nebraskans — our neighbors – who make them,” said Mike Johnson, the chamber’s vice president of manufacturing.

To be eligible, products had to be made locally. This year’s contenders hail from Nebraska towns as tiny as Snyder and Endicott to the more populous Capital City of Lincoln.

To start off, a committee narrowed more than 60 nominations to 16, which then went on to compete in a bracket-style tourney. Pairs face off until only two are standing.

A champion is to be announced Oct. 10 at the Nebraska Manufacturing Summit in La Vista. October is Manufacturing Month.

Last year’s winner was a new technology subway car made in the Lincoln plant of Kawasaki Motors. The R211 subway car, which can be found running on tracks in New York City, topped a field that started out at about 50 products.

Eight contestants still in the game:

All Terrain Tracked Wheelchair by Rocket Mobility of Columbus. The company says its product can help disabled hunters, veterans, farmers and anyone with mobility issues to “reclaim their off-road independence.” The wheelchair has a lower center of gravity that, according to the business’ website, can handle almost any terrain.

Chocolate Meltaways by Bakers Candies in Greenwood. According to the company website, Nebraskan Kevin Baker in 1987 perfected an automated, custom manufacturing process to produce decadent chocolate that today is made at “Nebraska’s largest ever candy factory outlet store.” The company calls the combination of process and ingredients “blue collar gourmet.”

Fire truck by Danko Emergency Equipment of Snyder. A family-owned business since 1974, the company led by four Kreikemeier men, designs, manufactures and sells firefighting and emergency vehicles to fire departments, rural fire districts and government entities. Equipment ranges from pumpers to brush trucks.

Flyover Whiskey by Flyover Whiskey of West Point. According to farmer and master distiller Joe Knobbe, and the company website, the farm-to-flask business was started to showcase generations of Midwest farmers who “make the Heartland such an amazing place to live.” The company uses corn planted on family farms to distill and bottle it into custom whiskey.

Geo-thermal Greenhouse by Greenhouse in the Snow of Alliance. The greenhouses use primarily geothermal heat from the earth, though passive solar is also a part of the energy used to grow plants. The company website shows how the product allows even lemons and oranges to grow in Nebraska winters, with minimal use of energy and water compared to above-ground greenhouses.

IGNIS firefighting system by Drone Amplified of Lincoln. The technology is the brainchild of two University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professors who developed it for igniting prescribed fires using drones. The system ignites backburns to contain wildfires to better manage land and reduce the risk of wildfires. 

Invisi-Lug Clay Paver by Endicott Clay Products of Endicott. The architectural brick manufacturer, whose roots go back to 1920, describes the pavers as durable, with compressive strength and recessed lugs that leave adequate joint spacing to eliminate chippage. “No need for buying plastic spacers, faster installation and more than other materials cannot mimic.”

Ram Air Turbine (RAT) Hub by Collins Aerospace of York. The RAT is at the heart of an aircraft’s emergency power system and, according to the company, has saved more than 2,400 lives in the last five decades. If an airplane lost power, the RAT deploys from the wing or fuselage and rotates to extract power from the airstream to control a safe landing.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.