Tyson Foods puts hold on plans for $320 million poultry complex in Kansas

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 267 views 

As opposition mounted in Leavenworth County, Kan., and financial incentives were in jeopardy, Tyson Foods said it has decided to put a $320 million chicken project on hold while it will consider other locations.

Earlier this week county commissioners, under pressure from residents and state lawmakers, voted to rescind a resolution involving $500 million in revenue bonds that would need to be issued to provide Tyson’s promised financial incentives.

Tyson Foods released an “Open Letter “to the Leavenworth community in which Doug Ramsey, president of Tyson’s poultry group, noted that state and local leaders had sought out Tyson Foods to build the complex which would bring 1,600 jobs and support another 200 or more growers who would supply birds to the new processing and slaughter plant.

Ramsey said county commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to use industrial revenue bonds for the project.

“We saw this shared investment, and the $150 million in annual economic impact it would have, as a win for the company and the people of Leavenworth County,” Ramsey noted in the Open Letter.

But shortly after the Sept. 5 announcement by Tyson Foods and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, opposition began to grow within the city of Tonganoxie which is where the proposed plant was to be built. Citizens Against Project Sunset (CAPS) organized a website and chose their name based off of the “code words” city leaders used with Tyson Foods to approve the deal without a public hearing on the matter. The main objections from locals was they were not allowed to discuss their concerns before the deal was made with Tyson Foods.

Tyson Foods said earlier this week they would hold their own public meetings after three state lawmakers held a public forum to discuss the opposition. Tyson also published a fact guide on its website in an effort to dispel some of the concerns and then after Tuesday’s commissioner vote released the Open Letter again trying to sell the message of jobs, and increased economic benefits if the project could move forward.

“We successfully operate six facilities in the state, provide thousands of good paying jobs and generate an annual economic impact of about $2.4 billion in Kansas. This goes back decades and in some cases we’ve been growing with our Kansas communities for over 50 years. Given our success here it made a lot of sense to consider new growth plans in Kansas,” Ramsey noted in the Open Letter.

Ramsey said Tyson knew there would be questions from the community and that’s why the company met with some residents after the initial announcement.

“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to reach as many of you as quickly as we had hoped,” he added.

Ramsey left the door open saying Tyson still has an interest in Leavenworth County, but since the financial incentives are being pulled the company will now prioritize other locations in Kansas and in other states that expressed interest.

Given the fines and EPA violations Tyson Foods has had in recent years getting a new plant online may not be that easy. Tyson Foods hasn’t built a new poultry plant and complex since 1996 and the world has changed since then. States like Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia where there is considerable chicken processing already may Tyson’s best bet for expansion.

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