Nebraska manufacturing giant Tony Raimondo dies

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who had more influence and standing in Nebraska manufacturing over the past four decades than Tony Raimondo.

Not only did Raimondo help rescue Behlen Mfg., one of the state’s most iconic companies, from collapse, but he also played an outsized role in helping grow the state’s manufacturing industry.

The man known affectionately as “TR” to many of his employees and peers died Wednesday in Florida. He was 83.

Raimondo, who was born in Buffalo, New York, first came to Nebraska in 1976 to work as general manager of Vickers, which at the time was a subsidiary of Sperry Corp.

In 1982, he moved to Columbus to become GM of Wickes Corp., which then owned Behlen. Wickes was already in financial trouble, having declared bankruptcy that same year, although Behlen was one of its most successful assets.

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But in 1983, the federal government decided to pay farmers to cut back on grain production, severely hurting sales at Behlen, which at the time was focused mainly on producing grain bins and other agricultural storage buildings.

By 1984, the company was in dire straits, faced with closure or bankruptcy if it didn’t find a buyer.

Rather than shutting down the business or auctioning it off, Raimondo teamed with three other managers to buy it.

“He basically saved Behlen in Columbus and saved all the jobs,” said Tony Raimondo Jr.,  chairman of the board for the Behlen Group.

After his dad and partners bought the business, they struggled for years, not reaching profitability until 1990, Raimondo Jr. said.

Today, Behlen, which is still based in Columbus, has six manufacturing plants across the country and nearly 1,100 employees, almost three times as many as it did when Raimondo and his partners bought it.

Raimondo, who served as chairman and CEO of Behlen for many years and retired from the company in 2019 as chairman emeritus, was heavily involved in business and industry groups. His positions have included chairman of the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition for the past 16 years; a director and past chairman of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce; and a director for the Omaha Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Among his many honors was an induction into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame in 1999.

Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber, said Raimondo served various roles in the state chamber for 30 years.

“He was incredibly well respected by everybody associated with the chamber,” said Slone, who said Raimondo acted as a coach and mentor for both him and his predecessor.

That respect extended throughout the state and beyond.

“He was not only a Nebraska manufacturing leader, but he was nationally known,” Slone said.

That national recognition led then-President George W. Bush in 2004 to nominate Raimondo to fill a newly created position of assistant secretary for manufacturing, dubbed the country’s “Manufacturing Czar.” However, Raimondo withdrew after Democrats raised concerns about Behlen having recently opened a manufacturing plant in China.

A few years later, he changed his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat and ran for U.S. Senate in 2008, but he lost a primary battle to Scott Kleeb.

Raimondo Jr. said one of the best things about his dad was that he genuinely cared about people.

“The stories were he knew everybody’s name” at Behlen, he said about his dad. “That’s pretty cool.”

In addition to his son, Raimondo is also survived by two daughters. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jeanne, and a son.

Funeral services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church in Columbus and they also will be livestreamed at

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