A Pleasant Hope beef processing plant that expects to employ nearly 300 workers is on target to open next month.
Missouri Prime Beef Packers LLC is in the midst of hiring and making renovations to its 100,000-square-foot plant in anticipation of a Feb. 8 opening, said Nick Paschkov, chief operating officer. A Jan. 15 ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the plant with Gov. Mike Parson among those in attendance.
“I see a very beautiful, efficient and safe plant coming together,” Paschkov said of renovations during the past several months at the former pork processing facility. “We totally gutted this plant. We actually got it to where it was just basically a shell, but the plant itself was in excellent shape.”
Paschkov said changing the plant to a beef processing operation required new equipment, rails, belts, conveyers and ductwork for heating. Work on refrigeration units is in progress.
Company officials declined to disclose the investment to launch in Pleasant Hope, but noted it was less than the $10 million cited in a recent Department of Economic Development news release. Dallen Davies, director of company culture and public relations, said his father, Stacy Davies, and Derek Thompson own Missouri Prime Beef Packers.
The planned employee count is 150 by opening day, Paschkov said. The goal is to expand to 275 employees when the plant gets to its target of processing 500 head of cattle per day. He said those marks are likely achievable by around 90 days in operation.
“We’ve already got 170 job offers out,” he said.
The owners bought the plant and its 260-acre property in July 2020 for undisclosed terms from the Bank of Sullivan and Blue Ridge Bank and Trust Co., Dallen Davies said, adding there is plenty of room for expansion as the need arises. The property was in foreclosure after Moon Ridge Foods LLC closed its plant in January 2018 after two years of operating. Moon Ridge officials initially referred to the closure as temporary, but the facility never reopened and sat vacant until Missouri Prime Beef Packers bought it, said Pleasant Hope Mayor Richard Harralson.
Harralson and Gail Noggle, executive director for the Economic Development Alliance for Bolivar and Polk County, both indicated Moon Ridge’s closure was a financial decision by its ownership. At the time of its closure, Moon Ridge CEO Russ Kremer said the company posted $70 million in sales during its first 12 months in operation, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.
It was the second time for the property to experience a closure. It originally opened in 2008 as a pork processing facility owned by Taiwan-based Tai Shin Foods USA.
Noggle said a beef processing facility is more likely to succeed in southwest Missouri.
“To manufacture beef, your availability of that product is much greater in this area than there is in pigs and pork,” she said. “For sustainability purposes, this is much, much greater.”
Cattle is plentiful in the Show-Me State, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Missouri ranks third in the country in the number of beef cows with just over 2 million in 2019, trailing only Texas and Oklahoma.
New in town
Missouri Prime Beef’s Thompson also co-owns Paxico, Kansas-based Nextgen Cattle Co., a seedstock production operation that produces Beefmaster and Charolais bulls. Stacy Davies, who lives in southeast Oregon, is a client of Nextgen and has 30 years of experience in the agriculture industry, his son said. That includes 10 years with Country Natural Beef, a cooperative of ranches in the Pacific Northwest, for which he served as its marketing director up until 2019.
Dallen Davies said Thompson expressed interest in expanding to new ventures and asked Stacy Davies to help. Davies said his father agreed on the condition that the two could own their own processing plant.
“He knew that in order to have success building a beef program at the scale Derek was wanting to do, he would need to have some control of processing space,” he said. “Together, they started looking. It wasn’t overnight. It was a couple years they were searching for the right place.”
Aside from Missouri, the owners toured plants in Colorado, Florida and New Mexico, Davies said.
“It’s a really nice facility, and it’s centrally located in the U.S. amidst an extensive supply of good quality cattle,” he said. “It’s also within a close enough proximity to the Nextgen feed lots [in Kansas] that it made sense.”
Efforts of the Economic Development Alliance helped secure the company’s commitment to come to Polk County, Noggle said, noting she was involved in discussions with the owners for nearly a year.
“Anytime you have an announcement of 250 new jobs that are good-paying jobs and qualify for state and local incentives that are livable wages with benefits, that impact is huge,” she said. “If Springfield got 250 jobs, it would be a big deal. But it’s a really big deal for a rural community.”
She said the company took advantage of Polk County’s enhanced enterprise zone program, which grants property tax abatement to businesses that locate or expand within designated areas. It was able to qualify for 100% property tax abatement for 10 years, she said.
The state offered incentives through the Missouri Works program, which helps businesses create jobs and facility expansions through payroll withholdings or tax credits, according to the state’s DED website. Missouri Prime Beef also is partnering with Missouri One Start, a division of the DED, to provide recruitment assistance tailored to meet the company’s specific workforce needs. Company officials and Noggle declined to disclose financial terms of the state incentives.
Because the town is only roughly 660 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, Noggle said the workforce likely will come from a radius of 35-40 miles.
“All of these people aren’t going to come from Bolivar. They’re good enough jobs that people are going to drive to get here,” she said.
As plant renovations near an end, Missouri Prime Beef is building out its client list, Davies said. Declining to disclose clients, he said roughly 20 are wanting to secure “hook space” in the plant for processing both fed and nonfed beef cattle.
“Our problem right now is not getting the clients,” Paschkov said. “It’s selecting which ones we’re going to work with.”
Davies said the plant’s checkered past was not a concern for Missouri Prime Beef’s owners. Processing beef and pork are “worlds apart,” he said, adding the company is confident it can provide good jobs for the southwest Missouri area for years to come.
“We’re aware of the past negative experiences they’ve had with this plant,” he said. “We’re doing our best to make sure they don’t have to go through that again.”
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