$300 million Simmons Foods processing plant to open in October

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 6,244 views 

Simmons Foods is expected to open a 315,000-square-foot poultry processing plant in western Benton County in October.

Siloam Springs-based poultry producer Simmons Foods Inc. and Affiliates plans to open an approximately $300 million chicken processing facility in western Benton County in October.

Company executives Tuesday (July 2) offered a tour to the media and area officials as construction continues on the nearly 315,000-square-foot plant centered on more than 870 acres east of Arkansas Highway 59, between Gentry and Decatur. The plant will employ nearly 900 people when it opens, with the majority relocating from an existing plant in Decatur.

The plant is expected to reach a capacity of 2,300 jobs by 2022 and will add more than 1,500 jobs, with an estimated payroll of $86 million annually. Pay is expected to range between $13 and $25 per hour, with an average of about $16 per hour, said Donny Epp, senior director of communications for Simmons Foods.

The plant, as part of the company’s Prepared Foods segment, will have an annual processing capacity of nearly 820 million pounds of poultry and will increase the company’s capacity to process live birds by 28%, or 300 million pounds, after the operations of the Decatur plant are moved to the new plant. The transition is expected to start in October or November.

“This will be the best and top end plant that I’ve ever seen,” said Russell Tooley, chief administrative officer for Simmons Foods. “It is world-class. It’s not just good for western Benton County, not just good for Arkansas. I think it will really set the tone in the industry what ‘good’ looks like.”

Tooley explained the efforts of working with the employees to determine what they’d like to see in the plant, including features such as a nearly 17,000-square-foot break room and lounge for employees. Jeff Norman, senior director of operations for Simmons Prepared Foods, noted the break rooms look like a coffee shop and the two-story glass curtain wall as part the façade will allow natural light to come into the building. The breakroom also will include a marketplace to allow employees to purchase food.

“This is not your grandpa’s chicken plant,” Tooley said. “It’s a wow. I’m super excited to be a part of Simmons for almost two years. This is the best plant that I’ll be associated with after 35 years in the industry.”

Norman and Tooley explained the quick hiring process and that the company has established a hiring center in Siloam Springs. It’s allowed people to apply and receive a job offer in about 45 minutes, and they noted the Decatur facility has openings for 30 jobs. Tooley said the company is receiving a lot of applications, and he expects the new plant to attract employees from other manufacturers. The hiring center in Siloam Springs has been good, but the company also is looking at satellite locations.

Fayetteville-based C.R. Crawford Construction is the general contractor on the project. During the tour, construction workers were working on processing equipment, and photography wasn’t allowed in the areas with the equipment as it is proprietary. More than 500 construction workers and 50 contractors have worked on the plant, and they have achieved 600,000 safe working hours, Norman said.

The flow of chicken processing will run from south to north, with the south side of the plant where the birds are received after being hauled there on trucks operated by Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services, he said. The birds are processed into fresh or frozen products one might find on grocery store shelves, or they are sent to other plants for further processing. The plant is expected to operate at a temperature of 72 degrees, and when the bird is processed into specific cuts of meat the temperature will be at 45 degrees.

Simmons Foods announced plans to build the plant in 2017.

“In western Benton County, a project like this is a huge engine, and it’s an engine not just for the jobs created here, which are hugely significant, but all of the multiplier effects,” Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said. “We’re going to have better housing out here. We’re going to have better infrastructure out here. We’re going to have things like improvements in free and reduced school lunch programs, and if you look at the school districts on the west side, arguably they haven’t been as enriched in how we’ve prospered in the county like some of the other school districts have. This helps equalize that. This is really kind of a catalyst project. I would expect there will be more development in western Benton County.”

The plant’s impact on services will be $2 million annually for Decatur and Gentry as it will purchase water from Gentry and send wastewater to Decatur after going through a pre-treatment system at the plant. Berryville-based utility Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. will provide electricity and natural gas will be offered by utility Black Hills Energy.

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