Tyson’s $320M poultry complex on hold because of opposition from residents
Open letter to the Leavenworth county community, dated Sept. 19:
Over 5,700 Tyson Foods team members are proud to live and work in Kansas. We care about each other, our communities and our company. 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. It made a lot of sense to consider new growth plans in Kansas.
We were invited by state and local leaders to build a new $320 million poultry complex in your community. They encouraged us to come to Leavenworth County. In a show of support, the 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. Given the scope of our project, we knew there would be questions and recognized that you would have an important voice in the decision-making process. That’s why we met with some of you after our initial announcement, planned more meetings and offered community leaders a chance to see our facilities first hand. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to reach as many of you, as quickly as we’d hoped. As a result, most of you haven’t gotten to know us very well.
We’d still like to get to know each other. However, after Monday’s reversal of support by the Leavenworth County commissioners, we will put our plans in your community on hold. We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.
This is a good project that we are deeply passionate about. We also believe it will be a significant boost — and not just economically — for the right community.
Doug Ramsey, group president Poultry Tyson Foods, Inc.
Right on the heels of the announcement in early September by Tyson Foods, Inc., to build a $320 million poultry complex, hatchery and feed mill near Tonganoxie, Kan., in Leavenworth County, came vehement opposition by community members about the proposed chicken processing facility.
The negative community reaction was so overwhelming, that Tyson has placed its plans on a shelf, and is examining options for its proposed chicken processing plant in other locations in Kansas and out of state.
Tyson had selected Tonganoxie, noting the plant would employ 1,600 people and contract with farmers and ranchers in northeast Kansas to raise chickens to meet growing demand in the U.S. for more protein and chicken in the human diet. The announcement included plans to break ground this fall, and begin production in mid-2019.
“More people want fresh food and as one of the world’s leading protein companies, we’re well-positioned to provide it,” Tom Hayes, president and CEO of Tyson Foods had stated in the official announcement in early September.
However, Tyson’s announcement was met with an emotional brick wall from a group of community members.
Anne Brockhoff, a member of Citizens Against Project Sunset (CAPS), a nonprofit organization formed to fight Tyson Foods’ attempt to build a poultry complex near Tonganoxie, estimated that up to 2,000 community members quickly assembled several times after the announcement and attended city council and county commission meetings to have their voices heard.
“We believe the Tyson project would irreparably damage our community’s environment, economy and quality of life, specifically overwhelming the school system,” said Brockhoff, who lives with her husband and three children on an 80-acre farm in Linwood, Kan., where they raise cattle.
Another member of CAPS also passionately stated her concern about the school system.
“Our school is already near or at capacity. Do the math. If only half of the 1,600 workers come to Tonganoxie and the average family size is four, then that would be 1,600 added students in our school district. The proposed Tyson plant is being built only a few miles from my children’s elementary school,” said Joanne Wilson, a resident and health care provider in Tonganoxie.
So the plans for Tonganoxie are now “on hold,” but Tyson’s project has already generated interest in other Kansas communities who are excited about the opportunity.
Tyson Foods spokesman Worth Spearkman told The Fence Post, that Tyson group president Doug Ramsey issued an open letter to the Leavenworth county community, dated Sept. 19.
In the letter, Ramsey said, “We’d still like to get to know each other. However, after Monday’s reversal of support by the Leavenworth County commissioners, we will put our plans in your community on hold. We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.”
Regarding offering interest in new people coming in to help grow the community, Brockhoff responded, “Absolutely. We welcome growth, and we consider our community to be business-friendly. But we want magnet growth, or businesses that add to the local economy and in turn stimulate further growth. This is a corridor community between Kansas City and Topeka, and many Leavenworth County residents have chosen to live here and commute to jobs elsewhere because of community ties, good schools, the opportunity to raise their families and enjoy a quality of life difficult to find in a larger metro area.”
Meanwhile, other Kansas towns are on the fast track to take advantage of an economic boost, including near Concordia in Cloud County in central Kansas, and near Coffeyville in Montgomery County in southeast Kansas.
“We, the (Highway) 81 Corridor has teamed up and invited them to come to a location within Cloud County,” said Ashley Hutchinson, director of CloudCorp. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking to residents. Most of it has been positive; people in Cloud County are well-versed with reality that we need jobs here. This plant pays more for hourly wages than currently paid, and we know there are some concerns, but we’d like a chance to see our population take an upward trend,”
Montgomery County commissioners have issued a support letter to Tyson Foods, that they’d issue up to $500 million dollars in revenue bonds to recruit Tyson to Coffeyville.
“We’re interested in having the project here. Anyone who works in economic development has an understanding of what the Tyson project will offer,” said Trisha Purdon, director of the Montgomery County Action council. “We can have open dialogue with our entire region of southeast Kansas of what it would look like, and what kind of workforce and infrastructure we have to support this type of project, and that everyone has their questions so we’re able to have an open conversation.”
Enthusiasm for a multi-million dollar chicken processing plant has also come from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. “Kansas is known throughout the world for our commitment to animal agriculture and for our communities, which offer an exceptional place for companies of this quality to find a talented workforce in a business-friendly environment,” Brownback said when Tyson first announced its plans for Tonganoxie.
SUPPORT FROM AG GROUPS
Positive responses for a proposed chicken facility — were also received from various agriculture commodity groups. The Kansas Corn Commission and Kansas Corn Growers Association had positive words regarding Tyson’s initial announcement in early September.
“Our growers will benefit from this new local market for our crops. We’d be a part of this locally sourced, locally produced product,” said Ken McCauley, president of the Kansas Corn Growers Association.
“Growth in the state’s poultry sector could be the largest driver for increased domestic utilization of Kansas soybeans,” said Kenlon Johannes, administrator of the Kansas Soybean Commission.
Also, when the plant was first announced, Kansas Farm Bureau president Rich Felts also praised Tyson’s opportunities for farmers to “benefit from not only growing the birds, but also raising commodities that will be used to feed them.”
Tyson Foods currently operates facilities in six Kansas communities, and employs about 5,700 people in the state with a $210 million annual payroll. In its 2016 fiscal year, Tyson Foods paid Kansas cattle suppliers more than $2 billion and hog suppliers $1.3 million.
“We (in Tonganoxie) are encouraged by Tyson’s decision Sept. 19 to put that project on hold,” Brockhoff said. However, CAPS believes the door remains open for this project to go forward at a future date, so, CAPS will continue attending city council, county commission and county planning and zoning meetings, and contacting local, county and state officials to ensure they are aware of sustained opposition. Conversations with environmental, economic and agricultural experts are ongoing. CAPS said it has hired legal representation in the community’s interests regarding the Tyson project, and yard signs reading, “No Tyson In Tongie” will continue to dot the landscape, expressing the sentiment of segments of the community.
Meanwhile, Tyson officials are considering enthusiasm from the other communities, that would offer a welcome and greater fit. Brockhoff said, CAPS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and http://www.NoToTyson.com, and its http://www.facebook.com/notysonintongie page. ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
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