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EG anticipates Prestage impact

Workers for Prestage likely to migrate from south, sociologist says

EAGLE GROVE — Competitive wages, cheaper housing, and a strong education system could result in employees from other meat packing plants in the southern part of the country moving to the region to work at Prestage Foods of Iowa when it opens its pork plant later this year, according to David Peters, a rural sociologist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Peters unveiled a study on the impacts of meat processing facilities in small towns during a meeting at Robert Blue Middle School Thursday night. About 45 people were in attendance.

Peters studied past data from similar sized meat packing plants when they opened in similar sized cities to Eagle Grove.

“Thirteen to $17 an hour for this part of the state is a really good wage for meat processing,” he said. “They (Prestage) pay more than the national average. What that might mean is you might get people from Missouri, North Carolina, or Texas coming to make a little more money. Housing may also be cheaper and schools are better, so you may get more southern people moving to Iowa.”

Exactly who will move to the area is unclear, but what is certain is that Prestage will employ 1,050 workers inside an estimated $300 million, 700,000-square-foot plant, located four miles south of Eagle Grove.

The plant will be capable of processing 10,000 hogs per shift. About 600 million pounds of pork will be processed annually.

It’s anticipated to open in November or December.

In the towns that Peters studied, there were significant increases in population when meat packing plants moved in. He said about 50 percent of the population was minority.

“There will be an increase in minority population,” Peters said.

That is likely to present challenges for the school system, he said.

“In the communities studied, there were fewer college graduates,” he said. “Thirty-three percent without a high school education.”

He added, “Dropout rates are higher among their children. Their parents have limited English ability. It’s hard to help tutor their own kids in high school.”

His study also found that most of the new residents in the towns studied had stable families.

“No difference in single-headed families with children,” he said. “They come from conservative cultures.”

He said there is the possibility there would be a loss of some community bonds.

“It won’t be the same town it was before,” Peters said. “The sense of identity might weaken a bit.”

He added, “On the positive side, these two packing towns responded positively and were open to making the towns better. If Eagle Grove follows the same path as the other towns you will have more people in local clubs and organizations.”

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