Arkansas Gets $165M Poultry Plant

Peco Foods announced plans Monday for a new poultry plant, hatchery and feed mill in northeast Arkansas, a $165 million operation expected to create 1,000 jobs in two rural counties.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Poultry supplier Peco Foods announced plans Monday for a new plant, hatchery and feed mill in northeast Arkansas, a $165 million operation expected to create 1,000 jobs in two rural counties.

Groundbreaking for the feed mill site in Corning is set for next month, while initial work on the hatchery and processing plant site near Pocahontas is set for July. Mark Hickman, chief executive of Peco Foods Inc., said the company hopes both the feed mill site and the hatchery are complete by November 2015, with the processing plant operational by the following January.

"Arkansas is an excellent place to do business, and we look forward to providing new jobs and an economic boost to Randolph and Clay counties," Hickman said.

Based in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Peco Foods is the nation's eighth-largest poultry producer. It processes about 24 million pounds of poultry each week and specializes in boneless chicken breast products for grocers and food-service markets.

Gov. Mike Beebe, who grew up in northeastern Arkansas, said it's gratifying to see the region attract investment from a large company.

"Anytime we can announce good jobs, it's a good day for Arkansas," Beebe said. "We're very, very fortunate that we can do that today and frankly, in a region of the state where we haven't been able to announce a ton of new, good jobs."

Employees working at the feed mill site are expected to earn $13 an hour, while those at the processing plant are likely to receive $10.86 an hour and those in the hatchery about $10 an hour, Hickman said.

"It means 1,000 jobs in our area," said Wayne Gearhart, executive director for the regional economic developer, the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Authority. "Our unemployment has been high. These are certainly needed jobs."

Gearhart said Randolph County has about a 10 percent unemployment rate, while for Clay County it was about 12.1 percent in the last reporting period.

"Access to a strong pool of employees became a primary driver behind our decision to expand our holdings here in the state," Hickman said.

The processing plant in Pocahontas will be about 255,000 square feet, while the hatchery will be about 73,000 square feet, Hickman said. It's not immediately clear how large the feed mill site in Corning will be.

Pocahontas Mayor Frank Bigger noted that surrounding cities will also benefit from the company's expansion.

Peco Foods now has operations in Alabama and Mississippi, along with a processing plant in Batesville and a feed mill in Newark. Hickman said with the addition of 1,000 jobs in Arkansas, Peco Foods' employee total is expected to reach 6,000 people.

The company will receive more than $4.5 million in state and local incentives, with additional tax breaks planned, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The company acquired the former Townsends Poultry Complex in Batesville in 2011.

"This expansion is truly another vote of confidence that we've got the right workforce, we've got the right infrastructure and we've got the right business environment in Arkansas and in the Delta region," said Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority.

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