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Keith Connell continues growth from Nogales

STILLWATER, KS — The early Nogales deal is routinely unpredictable, noted Jimmy Connell, who in 1997 first opened a Nogales office for his family’s business, Keith Connell, Inc.

“Markets are so depressed” that Nogales has had a slow beginning this year, he said on Nov. 15. Cheap prices for products crossing into Nogales from Mexico are attributable to lingering vegetable seasons in Florida and Georgia.

“The East Coast is still taking a lot out of the Southeast,” he added. “Usually, our normal customer base is pulling out of Nogales,” which is the case again this year. Thus, for Keith Connell the early season from Nogales “is fine, not great.”

A new twist in the Mexican deal is heightened minimum grade standards for Mexican tomatoes.

2013-11-15-0832-13-Jimmy-KeJimmy Connell, vice president of Keith Connell, Inc., with his father and company founder, Keith Connell, in the firm’s new Stillwell, KS, office.Connell, who is vice president of the family business, said that apparently some traditional tomato growers were uncertain of the coming change, so they elected to grow other vegetables to avoid tomato grading and sales problems. “Rumor has it that tomato and Roma plantings are down this year” in Mexico.

Connell dryly remarked that that end result is that this “safe route” left Mexican growers “a $4 market for zucchini and cucumbers for the last month.”

In Nogales, Connell operates a 25,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse that is used not only for shipping its own product, but cross-docking and as a tie-in to its truck brokerage business, Unlimited Logistics.

In recent months, Keith Connell, Inc. moved a couple of blocks in this southern suburb of Kansas City to have new office space.

The company previously occupied 3,000 square feet and bought a 15,000 square foot building. Currently, it occupies 10,000 square feet, with room for expansion.

Much of that space is used by the 12 people that now work for Unlimited Logistics. The transportation staff is up from five just a year ago.

Connell said Unlimited Logistics is “doing great” and is operating with service to virtually all parts of the United States and Canada.

Unlimited Logistics capitalizes on backhauls, such as meat out of the Midwest, to efficiently link transportation needs.

Connell said his own company sometimes uses rail service to haul potatoes and onions out of the West. But he sees truck transportation as continuing to flourish in the produce industry, despite efforts to build new rail service. The “huge” volumes of produce that are needed to fill a rail car, atop timeliness and perishability issues are the key constraints facing rail service, which he said “is great if it’s a rock that you are shipping.”

Jimmy Connell graduated from the University of Arizona in 1996 and a year later started the Tucson office for Keith Connell, Inc. He worked in Nogales for 11 years before returning to the Kansas City area. His brother, Danny Connell has worked in Nogales for 10 years and has permanently settled there.

The men are the son of company founder, Keith Connell, who is a native of metropolitan Kansas City. Also working in the Kansas office is a third brother, Danny Connell. Other produce staffers in Stillwell are Danny Sanchez, German Gallego, Jr. and a recently-new salesman, Justin Lombardi.