Central Iowa is about to get a much needed economic shot in the arm as a long awaited beef processing plant opens its doors providing hundreds of new jobs.
It's been more than three years since a group of private investors purchased a rundown environmentally unfriendly facility just off Highway 30 in Tama. Iowa Premium Beef opens today with a 48 and a half million dollar facelift. CEO Jeffrey Johnson says it’ll be hard to miss for those driving by, “the biggest thing that they’re gonna notice is this big distribution center when they come around the corner because it’s got nice architecture and color and it stands right out.”
It’s been a long haul between now and when the former plant, Iowa Quality Beef closed in 2004 leaving more than 500 meat packers without jobs. It also left a bad taste in the mouths of residents in the surrounding communities because they felt abandoned. Johnson says that’s why this time, they’ve taken a much more deliberate approach.
He says “we stepped out of the media purposely to build our plan and marketing strategy because we wanted to make sure we built a plant that was conscience of the environment, employee safety and food safety. We also wanted to make sure that some of the things that may have been a deterrent in the past were fixed.”
Along with a slow rollout of their plans to the public, Johnson says things inside the plant will also move more slowly in the beginning,” not only for the quality, but really for the ergonomics of the employees. They’ve got to get used to this pace of boning and slaughter. We’ve got to learn how to chill the cattle, how to treat the wastewater, all that goes into producing a product that the consumers want.”
Johnson says they’ll start by processing five head an hour with 450 employees, gradually increasing to 11 hundred of cattle a day and 600 employees.
Iowa Premium Beef has come at just the right time for many cattle producers. At full capacity, the plant plans to buy as much as $1 billion worth of Black Angus beef from within a 150 mile radius.
Iowa Cattlemen’s Association President Matt Deppe says the location is perfect because that’s where many of the state’s cattle are raised. He says “talking to the producers we’re hearing about more and more feeding facilities that are going up and the adoption of technology to feed a great tasting product from the state of Iowa.”
Even though almost all aspects of the new plant point toward success; economic growth, new jobs, a Central Iowa market for cattle: Johnson is realistic about the cyclical nature of the beef industry. Because of that, he says they’ve built a strong management team designed to pay attention and adjust accordingly, “we’ve got a hundred forty years experience from the region so we really know about supply and demand.”
It’s expected to take about 6 months, but Iowa Premium Beef will eventually operate a 5 day work week. It could also expand to 6 days if the volume requires it.