Prestage pork plant will affect much of North Central Iowa

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson The proposed site for the Prestage pork processing plant, five miles south of Eagle Grove, is shown above. This location is on the northwest side of the intersection of Wright County Road C56 and Iowa Highway 17.

WRIGHT COUNTY — A plan for Prestage Foods of Iowa to build its $250 million pork processing plant five miles south of Eagle Grove off Iowa Highway 17 has already caused a ripple effect across North Central Iowa in counties that could be impacted when the plant opens.

Officials in Wright, Webster, Hamilton and Humboldt counties have touched on the subject, preparing for the potential growth to the region.

The Wright County Board of Supervisors paved the way for the pork plant when it entered an agreement with Prestage in August 2016.

The company had previously considered Webster, Hamilton and Cerro Gordo counties as potential sites for the plant.

At minimum, Prestage is to employ 922 people when the plant opens, but that number is likely to be about 1,000, according to Bryce Davis, Wright County economic development director.

Furthermore, the number of employees could potentially double after a few years of operation, Davis said.

Average annual wages of employees is projected to be $47,000. The lowest paid workers are expected to start out at $13 an hour.

About 10,000 hogs a day will be processed at the planned state-of-the-art facility.

The plant will process approximately 600 million pounds of pork annually.

Additionally, about 40 percent of the hogs will be from local independent farmers, according to Jere Null, chief operating officer of Prestage Foods of Iowa.

Robotics and the most advanced equipment design will be among the features of the plant, which are to cut down on operator fatigue and increase productivity, according to Null.

Epstein Global, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is the general contractor for the multi-faceted pork plant project.

The 650,000-square-foot plant is to be built on 150 plus acres of land.

Groundbreaking is anticipated for spring with completion aimed for late 2018 or early 2019.

The plant will have a maximum height of 45 feet, according to information on Epstein Global’s website.

Epstein is likely to hire mostly Iowa contractors, according to Null.

The site is roughly a 20-minute drive from Fort Dodge.

With air conditioning, heating, plumbing, electrical and a host of other services needed throughout the construction process, there will likely be opportunities for local contractors and subcontractors, according to Null.

Null estimated between 1,000 and 1,400 employees will be working on the construction of the facility during its peak.

Catering and laundry service, trucking and other products will be needed once the plant is complete, Null said.

It’s unclear what businesses Prestage will process for, but the company already has business relationships with The Kraft Heinz Company, Cargill, Tyson Foods Inc., Publix and Sam’s Club, according to information on the company’s website.

In Clarion, Dustin Rief, city administrator, supports the project.

“Prestage Foods isn’t here locally, but we are preparing for some economic impact on that,” he said. “That was a big accomplishment in the county and we were in support of that.”

“That economic impact is going to be seen all over the region, and we can’t fathom how it’s going to impact us until it happens,” Rief added.

In Humboldt, Travis Goedken, city administrator, said there will be a focus on housing in the coming years.

“We want to make sure we have housing available, making sure we are poised well for the Prestage project,” Goedken said. “We just want to make sure Humboldt is in the best position when they go online.”

In Fort Dodge, Mayor Matt Bemrich said the city is preparing for both the benefits and challenges the plant could bring.

“The opportunity Prestage brings to our region to add value to agriculture products that we are already producing here — to take those products and be able to use them on a local basis to add value to them before they go to the market is a target we have been working on within the region for a number of years,” Bemrich said. “Adding value to agriculture. I am excited about the opportunity that brings in the future here.”

On the other hand, Bemrich said, with such a rapid and large growth to the area, there will be challenges.

“Anytime you add that number of jobs to a region that already has somewhat of a workforce shortage as it is today, challenges will be presented,” Bemrich said. “Demographics will change based on the work force that comes to our region. That can bring challenges with language barriers, health care issues, schools, housing, all those things, but I really think cooperatively, there is a lot of people that are anxiously anticipating the opportunity that it brings. As long as we keep focused on some of that planning we will be alright. There will be challenges, of course, but I don’t think those challenges are something that we aren’t prepared to meet head-on and create opportunities from those challenges.”

Sandy McGrath, mayor in Eagle Grove, said the project has been a positive step for the city.

“2016 was a busy year,” she said. “It was very productive and with Prestage moving in so close, we are taking advantage of working on housing and drawing in community members.”

Prestage is a North Carolina-based company that was founded in 1983 by Bill and Marsha Prestage.

It employs more than 2,000 people companywide to date.

Prestage has been operating in Iowa since 2004. It owns 145 farms in the state.

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