Newell leather worker makes bag in DC: K Bar J takes part in ‘Made in America’ showcase
Shaking hands with the President, the Secretary of Agriculture, the president’s press secretary, a couple of senators and his congresswoman isn’t something Jack Gully expected to be doing in the middle of July.
But during a fast and furious trip to the nation’s capital and back again, Jack Gully, owner of K bar J Leather of Newell, South Dakota displayed a number of his products during a White House “Made in America” showcase July 17 and met some high level politicians in the process.
“Less regulation” was the message Gully expressed to the POTUS’s staff. “When I started this in 1977, there were 130 or more tanneries in the United States. Now there are six – four that use chromium and two vegetable tanneries. They are forcuing us to take our American grown hides, ship them abroad, and then bring the leather back to the United States.”
Gully sources a lot of his leather from United States tanneries, but also buys U.S. hides from a Mexican tannery.
The world’s largest beef packer JBS, who has been battling bribery accusations and more over recent months, is a major tanner on the world market, he said. “They bought a lot of tanneries in Brazil.” American grown hides are shipped to Brazilian tanneries, he said.
Two families work from home and nine employees work in Gully’s Newell manufacturing plant to create leather items including chaps, chinks, tooled Bible covers, saddle bags, head stalls, halters, and more. Kelly Gully, Jack’s wife, created a line of purses and handbags that also sell on the K bar J website and are made by the same staff.
K Bar J sells most items at the wholesale level.
Gully said he didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the event. “I got a call at 4:30 on Thursday afternoon and they told me I was supposed to be in Washington DC Monday morning. I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ve got a branding on Monday. Who else is going from South Dakota?’”
When he learned he would be the sole representation for his home state, Gully decided he’d better do it.
The other presenters were invited at the last minute, too, some as late as Saturday, Gully found out when visiting with them.
The president’s deputy chief of staff explained that often visitors are only give a week or less notice, and all have to be vetted, Gully said.
Gully believes President Trump is genuine in his desire to help American businesses get a leg up – whether they are making chaps or airplaines.
“There has never been another president who has done this. Is this one step forward? Yes.”
Gully said he visited with the Nebraska represntative – Omaha Beef – about country of origin labeling for beef. “they said it doesn’t matter to them if we have it or not.”
His trip to Washington, DC, was productive, and he made connections with several other companies there besides talking with Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) about marketing concepts.
“It’s a great honor to be chosen for this.,” he said.
But he’ll keep his Newell zip code. “I’m too thin skinned to be a politician. I’m getting slammed (online) for being a South Dakota rancher and leather manufacturer.”
Gully appreciates his good friend and former intern Ty Littau of Littau Angus for traveling with him. Littau learned his way around the nation’s capitol while working for Senator Thune for several years before coming home in recent months to help on the family ranch. “I couldn’t have pulled this off without him,” Gully says.
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