Chicken processor picks Palestine
BY BETTY WATERS
The country's third-largest poultry producer revealed plans Thursday to build a poultry processing complex in Anderson and Freestone counties at a total cost of approximately $124 million that will create about 1,100 jobs and an annual payroll of about $25 million.
Sanderson Farms, based in Laurel, Miss., made the announcement of selection of sites for the three-part complex in and near the city of Palestine during its annual stockholders meeting.
Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington said he was "elated" to hear the announcement while listening on the Internet to the stockholders meeting and was "so proud" of everyone who worked on the project.
The city of Palestine, Anderson County, Palestine Economic Development Corp. and Freestone County were involved in the group effort to work with Sanderson Farms on coming to East Texas, Herrington said.
"For us, it couldn't come at a better time. We're just thankful and so grateful," Herrington said. "Sanderson is a topnotch, well-run company and they are even green conscious."
Depending on availability of grain and future prices, construction of the complex might start in the fall, Mike Cockrell, Sanderson's chief financial officer, said. The plant will take about 13 months to build and could start operating in January 2015, he added.
"The new big bird deboning complex will consist of a feed mill, hatchery, poultry processing plant and wastewater facility," according to information from Sanderson Farms.
Anderson County Judge Robert E. Johnston said the hatchery will be in Willowbrook Business Park in Palestine, while the feed mill will be in Freestone County and the processing plant in Anderson County at sites not yet disclosed.
Johnston said information from the company shows construction of the processing plant will cost about $75 million, the hatchery will cost about $17 million, and the feed mill, approximately $32 million.
The information also shows, Johnston said, that the processing plant will have about 1,000 jobs, the hatchery will employ a little more than 100 people and the feed mill will have about 70 workers.
The bottom range of salaries at the complex will be $12 an hour for employees employed at least a year, and the company will pay 75 percent of their insurance cost, Johnston said.
"It's a very big ... large project. That's why we're so excited," Johnston said.
"We (local officials) have been working on (getting Sanderson Farms) seven to eight months. We are extremely excited to have a corporate neighbor such as Sanderson Farms coming to Anderson County," Johnston said.
"It's been a big collaboration between the Palestine Economic Development Corp., the city of Palestine, Anderson County and Freestone County coming together to put this project together."
Once the plant is up and running, it's going to be a huge boost to the local economy, Palestine City Manager Mike Ohrt predicted.
Workers at the plant will hopefully shop in Palestine and spend part of their salary in the city, he said. It is expected people from the city will take some of the jobs and that other people will move to Palestine to be hired by Sanderson Farms, the city manager said.
"We're excited and thrilled at the announcement and looking forward to Sanderson Farms coming to Anderson County and Palestine and being a part of this community," Ohrt said. "We appreciate Sanderson Farms being committed to Palestine and we appreciate the work our economic development corporation did getting us on their radar screen."
Lysa Bean, marketing manager for Palestine Economic Development Corp., agreed that it will definitely stabilize the local economy.
"It will increase our ability to recruit other types of businesses, and it will create a need for additional businesses because we will have more jobs and more money will be put into our economy here in Anderson County," Ms. Bean said.
A combination of factors contributed to Sanderson Farms' decision to locate in East Texas, and it's a good location for a lot of reasons, the company's financial officer said.
Sanderson Farms already has a presence in Texas. It opened a plant in Bryan in 1997 and a plant in Waco in 2007.
"Texas has been an excellent place to do business. We've had success in Texas, so we decided to come back and do a third plant," Cockrell said.
Being in Texas puts the poultry producer close to markets in California and Mexico as well as near a port. "Mexico and Russia are good customers of ours." Cockrell said.
Sanderson Farms also found elected officials and economic development officials in Palestine and Anderson and Freestone counties "extremely helpful" as the firm considered locating in the area, Cockrell said. The company was looking for a business-friendly environment of the community, he added.
"That's very important to us; we have to make sure the community wants us to be there," Cockrell said.
There also were other considerations.
"When looking at a location, we've got to be assured we will have available labor to work in the plant," Cockrell said, He noted that the complex will employ about 1,100 people when it is running at full production and also will have several contract growers under 15-year agreements to raise chickens.
"We've done our research; we know the labor force is there, and we are looking forward to being there," Cockrell said.
Another factor, according to the company spokesman, was that the complex "has to be in an agricultural area where we know there is a sufficient number of farmers in the surrounding counties who are willing to make a substantial investment in their farm to grow chickens."
Cockrell added, "We also have to have high-quality water available, and we have to be located near a railroad to bring grain into the feed mill we use to manufacture feed to feed chickens."
Sanderson Farms had looked at Anderson County in the past and local officials asked the company to consider again locating here, according to local officials. Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples, a native of Palestine, was instrumental in persuading Sanderson Farms to take another look, the county judge said.
"Sanderson Farms has a reputation for being an outstanding corporate partner wherever they are located," Wendy Ellis, economic development director for Palestine Economic Development Corp., said. "The leadership in Waco and McLennan County has enjoyed an outstanding relationship with them and has seen positive impacts in their area from the complex that was built there."
According to its website, Sanderson Farms has 10 plants, more than 11,000 employees and 800 independent growers. Besides Texas, the company has plants in Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina.
Total annual sales in 2011, the latest year that statistics are available for, was $2.386 billion, and weekly production was 9.375 million chickens per week.