Mars Petcare is set to undertake the third major expansion of its Fort Smith pet food manufacturing plant since its opening in September 2009. The planned $72 million expansion – which could grow to $110 million – is estimated to add 130 jobs in the next few years.
The company now employs 252 in Fort Smith.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined company officials in Fort Smith on Wednesday (Dec. 14) to announce the conversion of a can line into a tray line and add two new lines. The plant produces CESAR and NUTRO brand dog food and SHEBA wet cat food.
The immediate investment of $72 million will account for the 130 new jobs. The remaining investment of “around $40 million” will likely come into play in 2018 and could result in additional job creation, though he said it was too early to discuss beyond the 130 in Wednesday’s announcement, said Mark Broadhurst, director of government affairs for Mars U.S. and Canada.
“Mars Petcare’s decision to expand this facility speaks highly of the company’s existing workforce in Fort Smith,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement. “This is a very significant investment that will impact not only the local economy but that of the state. Thanks to the leadership of Mars Petcare for choosing to grow in Arkansas and the associates who make it such a great place to work.”
Officials with Mars Petcare – based in Brussels, Belgium, with a U.S. headquarters located south of Nashville, Tenn. – announced in November 2007 they would build the Fort Smith plant, and the $80 million facility opened in September 2009. The average annual salary at the plant was then estimated at $35,300.
In October 2013, the company announced a $50 million expansion that was expected to add 42 jobs. That was followed in early 2015 with an $81.7 million expansion estimated to add 95 jobs paying more than $21 an hour.
“Since the site was built, the city of Fort Smith and State of Arkansas have been tremendously supportive of our investments and business,” Mark Johnson, president of Mars Petcare, said in a statement.
Mars Petcare employs more than 37,000 people around the world.
The expansion likely supports a U.S. pet food market that continues to grow. According to Statista, U.S. pet food sales have risen from $23.4 billion in 2010 to $29.2 billion in 2015.
When the site was constructed in Fort Smith, it was the state’s first sustainable manufacturing facility and the first sustainable pet food manufacturing facility in the world. The facility is LEED-Gold certified from the United States Green Building Council. It achieved gold status for its efforts to recycle water, reduce energy use, and protect against erosion and light pollution.
“Mars Petcare’s decision to expand its operation in Fort Smith is outstanding news. Since 2007, the Chamber and the Mars leadership team have partnered together, building the original project and working on their subsequent growth in western Arkansas, the economic development engine of the state. This announcement reinforces Mars’ commitment to this community and we’re fortunate to have a world-class company like them in our backyard,” said Tim Allen, president of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The Mars expansion is welcome news for the Fort Smith regional manufacturing sector. The sector employed 18,000 in October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 17,700 in October 2015, but down more than 2,000 jobs from October 2010 when sector employment was 20,600. Annual average monthly employment in regional manufacturing was 27,900 in 2005, 20,700 in 2010, 18,100 in 2014, and 17,800 in 2015. The sector has been on a steady decline since it hit a high of 31,200 jobs in June 1999.