Nebraska: New packing plant on horizon for North Platte
NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — A collection of feedlot owners, ranchers, and former Cargill employees have their sights set on breaking ground on a nearly-$300 million packing plant near North Platte by fall 2021, with completion by early 2023, the group announced at a press conference in North Platte on Thursday, March 18.
David Briggs, CEO of both Alliance-based cooperative WESTCO and the new packing company, Sustainable Beef LLC, told the North Platte Telegraph newspaper that the city was an ideal location.
“It’s right on the Interstate (I-80), the middle of the United States, and right in the middle of cattle country,” he said. “It’s really a perfect place to put this facility.”
Founders for the project include Briggs, Bridgeport cattle feeder Pete Lapaseotes, Tryon rancher Rusty Kemp, Ainsworth cattle feeder and trucking company owner Bob Maxwell, Hershey cattle feeder Kirk Olson, and Olson’s son-in-law Trey Wasserburger, who does business under TD Angus.
Kemp said he traveled with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on a trade mission to Vietnam and Japan in 2019 and learned that there was an international demand for Nebraska beef. The plant’s impetus was also born of so-called “Black Swan” events, such as the 2019 fire which shut down Tyson’s Holcomb, Kansas, facility and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which shut down packing plants last spring and caused huge ripples throughout the cattle industry along with adversity for cattle ranchers and feeders across the high plains.
“This one plant isn’t going to fix the whole thing,” Kemp said during the press conference. “We’re not looking to take on the big four packers, but there’s a lot of room to operate between a 5,000 head a day plant and your local butcher.”
The project’s leadership is being headed up by Live Better Beef LLC, a collection of veteran former Cargill executives; Steve Polski, a former exec who has expertise in supply chain operations; Brain Derksen, retired VP of operations for Cargill’s meat businesses; Jeff Smith, retired VP of engineering for Cargill meat; John Keeting, the retired president of Cargill’s beef business; and Bill Rupp, a retired president of both Cargill and Swift beef.
The new plant will be situated atop a former city sewer lagoon on Newberry Road on North Platte’s east edge, south of North Platte wastewater treatment plant and 1 mile north of Interstate 80 Exit 179. Financing is expected to come from private investors and subscribing cattle producers as part of a hybrid-cooperative arrangement.
Sustainable Beef hopes to buy the land from the city, which is currently tax-exempt, and plans to leverage tax increment financing (TIF) from the city of North Platte to help raise the site 4 to 5 feet. The North Platte Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider the TIF eligibility of the property, and if approved would be followed by a formal request from Sustainable Beef.
The Sustainable Beef plant is projected to employ roughly 875 people with a planned 400,000/head per year (1,100 head per day) kill capacity. It will be about one-fourth the size of Tyson’s slaughter facility in nearby Lexington. The plan is for the plant to procure and kill subscribed cattle from ranches and feedlots within a 200-mile radius of the plant. The plant plans to market its beef with a mix of 30 percent international sales and 70 percent domestic sales.
Briggs said during his presentation that the average annual salary for line workers at the plant will be $50,000, with 8-hour day shifts and 40 hours a week. Unlike other plants, sustainable beef will only run day operations, and will likely attract some night employees from other packing facilities in the region who are looking for a more stable work environment. Employment will be open to U.S. citizens or legal residents, and Briggs said during the press conference that E-Verify clearance will be required for non-citizens.
The project is expected to be a boon to both the North Platte economy and school system. Currently the city’s public schools have room for an additional 1,400 students, and the city hopes to see roughly $1 billion in economic impact from the plant.
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