A $450 million, 500,000-square-foot beef processing facility employing 1,300 people is only the start of the benefits that a local economic development group hopes to see when American Foods Group …
A $450 million, 500,000-square-foot beef processing facility employing 1,300 people is only the start of the benefits that a local economic development group hopes to see when American Foods Group (AFG) expands its company to Warren County.
AFG, which touts itself as the fifth-largest beef processing company in the U.S., announced plans last week to build a new facility just west of Foristell by 2024. The company is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and currently has eight facilities in seven states. Representatives said the addition of another facility in Warren County will expand AFG’s ability to meet demand for beef production.
“The industry need for additional capacity and consumer demand for beef is growing. We are investing in this project to benefit our employees and meet the needs of our partners, customers, and consumers,” said Steve Van Lannen, president and COO of American Foods Group, in a statement emailed to The Record.
AFG didn’t decide on Warren County as its next location by chance, said Steve Etcher, the business development director for the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council. AFG went through a multi-state site selection process, and was ultimately convinced to settle here thanks to the work of local, regional, and state economic development groups.
Etcher said the prime attractions of the Warren County location are its access to transportation corridors, the growing availability of utilities, and proximity to established population centers.
Also, three state economic development programs have offered a combined $36 million in performance-based incentives for AFG to bring its business here, according to reporting from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Etcher said the presence of a new major employer will mean that Warren County can keep more of its talent and labor close to home.
“We have 12,000 people every day who leave this county for work, and they would love to have work closer to home,” Etcher said. “And these are really good paying jobs. The average salary for this facility is anticipated at $60,000 per year.”
Those jobs are only the start of ripple effects that economic planners hope to see from the facility. The next most obvious impact is for local farmers, who will be able to sell their cattle at the facility. AFG will work with any beef producer, no matter how large or small, Etcher said.
Less obvious is the secondary impacts for businesses that will be needed to support the new facility. Etcher said the big dream is for a whole economy to grow around supplying needs for the AFG plant.
“They have told us that they spend, at each plant, $25 million per year on cardboard. That’s a business opportunity – we can get a cardboard production facility located in proximity to that plant. The plastic, the dry ice they use ... there are so many opportunities,” Etcher said. He commented that AFG executives are going to begin meeting with the Warren County business community to discuss what products and services the plant will need.
“It’s things you’re not even thinking of. ... If I was a lot younger and a little smarter, I would be building childcare facilities,” he continued. “We’re talking 1,300 workers who could be working different hours and longer shifts. Your traditional childcare may not be (what they need). That’s a business opportunity.”
The approach of such a large facility with big supply and utility needs could even be the catalyst for infrastructure development that could fuel future economic expansion. Etcher said economic development groups are currently working with electricity, water and sewer providers for the area to make upgrades that will meet the massive utility needs of the plant. In doing so, they’ll have the opportunity to build up extra capacity that can serve more such facilities in the future.
Etcher added that working with state and county governments to improve and/or expand the regional transportation network is also a current priority.
A facility of this size doesn’t come without some concerns, many of which have already been raised by community members.
A question developers expected right away is whether the facility will have a strong odor. AFG spokesperson Jennifer Dibbern said one of the goals for the facility is to use the latest available technology to prevent any negative impact to the local community.
Etcher said he was part of a group that visited AFG’s facility in Green Bay, which he said has no exterior odor and is directly adjacent to a neighborhood and a cafe with outdoor seating.
Another issue that’s been raised is whether Warren County has enough housing inventory to support an influx of workers. Etcher replied that the county and homebuilders have three years to prepare for that concern.
He also addressed negative stigmas that are often associated with food production companies. AFG is a family-owned company with 100-percent American ownership, Etcher said, adding that the company also strictly follows U.S. employment and immigration laws.
Etcher said local representatives spent time investigating the company and talking with their counterparts in the communities where AFG already is, asking if the company would be a good fit for Warren County.
“Everybody we talked to had nothing but praise for the company,” he said.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2021 Report this