American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame, Inc., (AVS) announced Tuesday it would add "40-60 new jobs" in Mulberry in the next three years in the production of Edamame.
Edamame are immature soybeans prepared in the pod. They are typically boiled in water with salt and other condiments.
The first "forty or so hires" are expected for the next few months of 2012.
Addressing attendees at the Crawford County Fair Building of Kirksey Park in Mulberry, Dr. Kelly Cartwright, the company's chief operating officer, promised the salaries were "very competitive," though he didn't wish to expand with an average salary.
"There will just be such a wide range of positions, it's hard to tell right now," Cartwright told The City Wire.
Many of the jobs will operate from a 33,000 square-foot facility that is under construction in Mulberry. "This (Mulberry plant) will be the entry point. It will handle cleaning, processing, packaging, and distributing, nationwide," Cartwright said.
AVS, a subsidiary of Houston-based JYC International, will begin planting approximately 900 acres in-state during 2012 with plans to double output for the following year.
"We don’t see a ceiling in the market," Cartwright said. "It can sustain anything we want to do. Edamame is growing at 12-15% per year. It's been a very well established industry in Asia for at least 30 years, so AVS is here (in Mulberry) to stay."
The industry is in a growth phase. Fewer than 5,000 acres nationwide produced edamame as of June 2010, according to this report at Farm World. Most of that farm production was in Ohio, Kentucky, California, Illinois and Indiana. Estimates in mid-2010 were that edamame production could increase to 32,000 acres to meet U.S. demand.
The bulk of plant construction will finish in May, Cartwright noted, and the facility should be "ready to go by the early part of July (2012)."
Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter added that in addition to bringing jobs to the city, AVS has refused any tax incentives, "because it's very important to them to support our education system," he said.
The estimated tax savings AVS will leave on the table is "in the tens of thousands," Baxter said, noting that he couldn't give a specific number until the facility and all its contents had been assessed.
Addressing attendees at the event, Gov. Mike Beebe said, "You all have heard me say there is a direct correlation between education and economic development. You've heard me talk about how we need to be upping the skill level of our people to retain and attract businesses and industries of tomorrow. That's what has happened here."
Beebe credited the University of Arkansas for its "tireless efforts" in helping AVS to make the plant a reality.
"The research that has occurred, the collaboration between educators, who work day and night without you ever knowing about it, is a major component of why we’re here today," Beebe said.
A statement from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission included this quote from Dr. Mark Cochran, vice president for agriculture, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: “The Division of Agriculture in the University of Arkansas System is extremely pleased with the opportunity to support the development of an edamame soybean industry in Arkansas. We are very excited about this great opportunity to diversify into a new crop and to enhance the tremendous impact that Agriculture has on the state’s economy by pursuing another value-add enterprise to supplement farm production. From variety development to technical support to field demonstrations, the Division of Agriculture stands ready to support the growth of this new enterprise.”
Dr. Gene Chung of AVS parent company JYC International, hopes to make edamame a permanent fixture in the state.
"I feel lucky and fortunate to be in part of the group effort to develop the Arkansas edamame program. This program is going to start from here (Arkansas) and maybe spread all over the nation. I have been in edamame business for more than 7 years, but thus far have been importing from China."
Chung noted that "for the last two decades, China has been the major edamame producer and exporter to the world," but said things have changed now, "during the last two years or so," because of the inflationary economy in China.
"Everything made there (China) has gone up in cost, and that includes the edamame," he said. "I'm really excited, because previously, it had been too costly to do. But this came at the right time that we can start doing this, so I was very much excited to join the group. We (AVS) will get a lot of technical help from the University of Arkansas. I am very confident that Arkansas will become the edamame capital of the U.S."
Chung is also the founder of Chung’s Gourmet Foods which has manufactured and distributed Asian packaged foods in the U.S. for more than 20 years. Since 2002, JYC International has been importing frozen foods from China to the U.S. The imported frozen foods have been directly and indirectly distributed to the U.S. markets such as Costco Wholesale Clubs, Sam’s Club, Golden Corral restaurant chains, major U.S. grocery chains and the oriental food markets.