Plant to bring 900 jobs

CLARION – Prestage Foods of Iowa LLC has plans to construct a new multi-million dollar pork processing facility in Wright County, bringing 900 new full-time jobs to the area, the Wright County Board of Supervisors announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We look forward to the creation of 900 new jobs and the $240 million investment in our county,” said Stan Watne, chairman of the Wright County Board of Supervisors.

Wright County was one of 19 communities that were interested housing the company’s new facility, according to Watne.

“We are investing in Iowa and specifically Wright County because we believe this plant is good for Iowa, good for agriculture and a good step forward for our family-owned and run business,” said Ron Prestage on behalf of the Prestage family, in a written statement. “Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producing state and currently produces more pigs than it can process. This plant will keep the value from processing pigs in this state.”

The company had previously considered Webster and Hamilton counties as potential sites for the plant before announcing in May that it would be built near Mason City in Cerro Gordo County. However, the City Council there rejected the proposal, prompting the company to resume its search for a location.

The 650,000-square-foot facility will be located on a 150-plus-acre stretch of land five miles south of Eagle Grove, just off Iowa Highway 17, according to Bryce Davis, Wright County economic development director.

The hope is for the plant to be operational by 2018, Davis said.

“This site was chosen as it is at the center of hog production in Iowa, with 6.5 million hogs marketed within 250 miles of this plant,” Watne said.

The plant will be located in the same vicinity as other agriculture processing plants and will not be near any residential areas, according to Watne.

The decision to bring Prestage to the area made sense, Watne said.

“We thought it was a fit for Wright County because we do raise a lot of livestock,” he said. “We are first in egg production and raise a lot of hogs. We thought it would be a good area.”

Watne said Prestage is a familiar name within the county.

According to Watne, Prestage has operated in Wright County since 2004. It owns 15 farms in Wright County and 25 additional farms in surrounding counties.

The expansion will not only impact Wright County, but also Webster and Hamilton counties.

“I think it’s exciting for surrounding counties,” said Rick Rasmussen, Wright County District I supervisor. “I think they are all going to benefit from it.”

Davis said the first step in the process was to see if Wright County was able to accommodate the company’s needs.

“We have a perfect site for them,” Davis said. “Obviously with population growth and 900-plus new jobs is a lot to handle for any community in Wright County. That’s why we took the site that could disperse the population naturally so Fort Dodge and Webster City and Eagle Grove and all the surrounding towns will see some benefit. But it won’t be so large that it would overwhelm the city. That’s what we don’t want. With that natural spread of population, it’s a perfect fit.”

Population in rural Iowa is an area Watne is eager to have addressed.

“One of the things this facility will certainly help in all of our counties is population, where we have seen a decline in population,” he said. “This could be something that brings people in, brings young families in. We could turn around this constant decline.

“That certainly will help in the long run for all of our businesses on main streets. For schools, churches, medical facilities. We have got to stop this depopulation of rural Iowa. This plant could go a long ways in reaching that goal. We just need to turn it around. This is what’s exciting is we have a chance to make a real difference.”

Karl Helgevold, Wright County District III supervisor, pointed out the economic benefits.

“This will be a boost for Wright County,” he said. “Our average per capita is about $25,964. Our household per capita is about $43,000. The lowest paid job (for Prestage) will be $37,000 a year. The average wage of the plant will be about $47,000. There are some higher and some lower. At $43,000 per family, now one person will be able to earn that.”

As far as when construction will begin, Davis said it’s to be determined.

“They would like to be moving dirt in October,” he said. “But I would like to stress that this is pending local and state approval. We hope it becomes possible, but we have to do our due diligence.”

Watne said it’s going to take time for surrounding communities to get ready for the new development.

“Health care, schools and housing officials are excited for the growth and will use the two-year construction period to prepare,” he said.

Prestage Foods plans to take measures to be environmentally friendly, according to Davis.

“This facility will use air scrubbing technology,” he said. “So it will go up through a condensed operation that will take out the particulates and will basically make all emissions clean. There will be technology that scrubs those in all parts of the plant.”

He said the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will also inspect the air quality.

“In terms of methane they will have a natural lagoon system that will be covered,” he said. “What they will do is capture the methane, put it in their boilers to heat the plant. They will use something similar to geothermal technology. In the winter time they will have pipes underneath where they will bring in the live hogs which will heat those floors for humane handling of the hogs during winter time.”

In regards to wastewater, there will be a pretreatment agreement, Davis said.

Eagle Grove Mayor Sandy McGrath said the environment is one issue she has been satisfied with to this point.

“I like the environmental measures that are being taken,” she said. “I like how they are open and the conversation is there.”

She also said the addition of the new plant could bode well for Eagle Grove’s housing development.

The city of Eagle Grove announced its new housing program in April. People wishing to build a new home in Eagle Grove are eligible to receive up to $40,000 in grant money from the city.

“That is something that will work into it,” McGrath said. “It definitely fits into the puzzle. I am hoping it gives us a boost to help our economy.”

Webster City Mayor John Hawkins is hopeful that the expansion of Prestage Foods will attract people to the area.

“Hopefully this means that we’ll get some more people moving to Webster City and have some of the management move into the new housing estate we’re putting together,” Hawkins said.

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich also expressed enthusiasm.

“I am always excited to hear about expansions that are coming around the area,” he said.

Watne said the scope of the project is as large as he’s ever been involved with.

“In the 23 years that I have been sitting here, this is one of the biggest projects I think we have ever been involved in,” Watne said. “This has a lot of potential.”