Unincorporated Warren County has landed a 500,000-square-foot beef processing facility.
Presiding Warren County Commissioner Joe Gildehaus said American Foods Group plans to build the plant along Interstate 70 near the intersection of Veterans Memorial Parkway and Archer Road between Wright City and Foristell.
The plant, set to open in 2024, is expected to create more than 1,300 new jobs.
“Missouri is able to compete for projects of this magnitude because of our strong agriculture community and business-friendly economy,” Gov. Mike Parson said in a release. “As a third-generation farmer and cattleman myself, I know how beneficial having a company like American Foods Group in Warren County will be for Missouri’s farmers and consumers.”
Minneapolis, Minnesota-based American Foods Group is expected to invest up to $450 million in the project, including an annual payroll of more than $80 million. If that were divided among 1,300 workers, the average wage would be approximately $61,538, around $1,000 more than the county’s median income from 2015 to 2019, which was $60,125, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Steve Etcher, business development manager for the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council, said the higher tax revenue generated by the project would provide “significant” funding for school districts and other tax-supported entities. He said the economic benefit for the region is expected to be approximately $1 billion.
“Economic development is a priority for our community, and it is exciting to see what we can achieve when we work collaboratively for that purpose,” said Gregg Klinginsmith, chairman of the Warren County economic development council. “Attracting food production and value-added agriculture companies supports and bolsters our local farmers.”
Etcher said he expects the economic benefits to trickle down to Franklin County residents and companies, too.
“Our economies are regional,” he said. “Our labor sheds are regional. There are no parochial lines when it comes to creating opportunities for prosperity in the community.”
American Foods Group processes and ships over 5 million pounds of beef from its eight facilities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska, South Dakota, Illinois and Washington. According to Etcher, the processing center in Warren County is comparable to some of American Foods Group’s larger plants.
Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, said the facility will benefit local farmers just by being closer. He said it will reduce the cost and energy needed to transport beef to processing plants.
“This is going to be a great opportunity to add value to Missouri farms and ranches across the state,” said Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. “It’s going to give farmers the opportunity to direct market to the plant.”
Currently, many area farmers sell their beef cattle before they are ready for market to feedlots, where a heavy grain diet will prepare them for slaughter, according to Anita Ellis, a livestock specialist for the MU Extension based in Callaway County and who serves Cole, Gasconade, Maries, Montgomery, Osage and Warren counties. The American Foods Group plant will ask farmers to feed their cattle for a few more months before selling. She called an upcoming extension program, feedlot school, “good timing.”
“We’ve got some very intelligent, adaptable people in the area, and I think they could totally handle it,” she said of area farmers.
Chinn said the new facility, which will process about 2,400 head of cattle per day, will purchase as few as one head of cattle. She is hoping the extra competition will lead to better prices for beef farmers, but Ellis said it’s not yet known how or if the facility will affect market price. Ellis said Missouri had one other large beef processing facility that she knew of, in Pleasant Hope.
As far as the challenge of finding 1,300 employees in an already stretched market, county leaders are confident American Foods Group can find and keep good workers.
“There are 2.8 million people within 40 miles of the plant,” Etcher said. “In Warren County, we have 12,000 people a day that leave the county for employment. So ideally, we want to connect the dots.”
Etcher and Gildehaus said a trip to tour American Foods Group’s facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin, convinced them that the company would be able to recruit and retain a workforce.
“They’re in some pretty competitive markets now,” Etcher said. “They’ve been able to maintain and attract the workers that they need because of their company culture, because of the benefits and pay and just the work environment.”