Mr. Blackburn began his business career at a very early age. When he was seven years old, he worked with his “older” brother Bob, aged 11, to complete the company’s first million flag order at Blackburn Manufacturing. The company was started by his father, Everard “Bud” Blackburn in 1953. After completing his education and military service (seven years as a navy helicopter pilot), Mr. Blackburn returned to Blackburn Manufacturing as a full time employee in 1973. He became president in 1980 when the founder and his father, E. A. Blackburn retired.
As president, Mr. Blackburn drove yearly double-digit revenue increases. On March 3, 1988, the first of many milestones was reached: the company sold its one billionth flag. To accommodate growing demand, Mr. Blackburn expanded the company’s capacity to directly service west coast business by opening a new California plant in 1989. In 1990, another building was added in Neligh, NE which increased the plant’s capacity by 30%.
In recognition of his many accomplishments, Mr. Blackburn was named Nebraska Businessman of the Year in 1992 by United States Small Business Administration and was awarded the Nebraska Distinguished Entrepreneur Award in 2003 by Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship.
President (read bio)
Just like her father and grandfather before her, Ms. Blackburn-Nielsen is no stranger to hard work at an early age. Summers and holidays, she toiled along side her family in building the business. After pursuing her post-secondary education, Ms. Blackburn-Nielsen returned to the company as a junior customer service representative. From there, she honed her management skills and operational knowledge through positions in virtually every department within the company including sales, manufacturing, shipping, human resources, finance and executive management. Since assuming the office of president in 2004, Ms. Blackburn-Nielsen has continued the company’s enviable record of continuous sales growth and innovation. Under her leadership, the company expanded its product line to include complementary safety items and marking paints. She also took the company global with sales to Europe, South American and the Middle East.
In addition to managing a successful manufacturing firm, Ms. Blackburn-Nielsen is an active member of various professional, conservation and charitable organizations including PLANET and NULCA. Ms. Blackburn also serves as a volunteer EMT for Antelope Memorial Hospital, treasurer for the local Golden Prairie Pheasants Forever Chapter and member of the Neligh Firemen’s Auxiliary.
Don Gartner Vice President Sales and Marketing (read bio)
Mr. Gartner has over 40 years experience in sales and marketing including twenty years as owner/operator of his own successful commercial and residential irrigation company. Since joining Blackburn Manufacturing in 1989, he has made significant and continuous contributions to the company’s robust growth. For example, Mr. Gartner was instrumental in the development of safety and marking paint product lines which represent approximately 20% of the company’s annual revenue. In addition, he spearheaded efforts to penetrate the retail distribution channel by adding Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menard’s, Ace Hardware and others to the company’s roster of satisfied clients.
In terms of community service, Mr. Gartner served on the national board of directors for Pheasants Forever which has nearly 200,000 members and 65 chapters across the country. A skilled guitar player, Mr. Gartner was inducted into the NE Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a member of The Dynamic Drifters along with such other notable performers and bands as Buddy Miles, Herbie Rich, Preston Love, The Chevrons and The Coachmen. Mr. Gartner is an avid hunter/fisherman and serves on the field testing staff for many major outdoor equipment manufacturers.
Dave Jacobsen Vice President Sales and eCommerce (read bio)
Prior to joining Blackburn Manufacturing, Mr. Jacobsen was Vice President for Heritage Bank, one of Nebraska’s largest independent community banks. After building and managing a profitable ag loan portfolio for the bank, Mr. Jacobsen joined Blackburn Manufacturing as a national account manager in 2002. His ability to consistently generate double-digit revenue growth and his online expertise resulted in his promotion to Vice President Sales and eCommerce in 2005.
In addition to his business commitments, Mr. Jacobsen finds the time to give back to his community by serving as Asst. Chief of the Neligh Volunteer Fire Department, Secretary of the Antelope County Airport Authority Board and Captain of the Neligh-Oakdale Jaws of Life. When there’s time remaining, Mr. Jacobsen likes to spend it hunting, flying and coaching Legion Baseball and High School Football. Mr. Jacobsen graduated with a double business major and received his BSBA degree from the University of Nebraska.