State officials are hoping to keep a new Tyson Foods chicken plant in Kansas after the company put on hold plans to build the $300 million facility in Leavenworth County.
Tyson is looking at other locations in Kansas and other states after public outcry and a local decision to back away from promised incentives.
Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said 15 to 20 other Kansas communities have now expressed interest in the plant. She and others are working to determine whether those areas could meet the needs of the facility, which would produce trays of chicken for grocery stores. The demands include sufficient local workforce and infrastructure for the facility.
Right now, McClaskey is confident they can put together a new deal with Tyson.
“They have not backed out of their commitment that they want to do business in Kansas. They want to expand in Kansas,” she said. “I feel like right now they’re giving us a shot.”
Interim Commerce Secretary Nick Jordan said they’re making a sales pitch to keep Tyson looking at Kansas.
“To let them know the state wants them to be here,” Jordan said. “We’ve got plenty of other communities that fit their needs very, very well. We want to get off and running again working with them to find a spot that does fit for them.”
Jordan said if the plant goes to another state, Kansas would lose an investment of more than $300 million and 1,600 jobs.
“We’re missing out on a significant economic impact on the state economy and growth to the agricultural base that we have in the state,” Jordan said.
McClaskey said the impact could go beyond just that investment. She’s concerned if this deal falls apart, other agriculture companies could think twice before considering investment in Kansas.
“That longer-term effect is pretty important to keep in mind,” McClaskey said.
Local residents voiced strong opposition to the Leavenworth County proposal, saying it could reduce the quality of life in the community.
A new, state-of-the-art facility could be built to minimize issues like odors, McClaskey said, adding that an area where similar industries already operate may be a better fit.
“Any community that has had value-added food processing of some sort and understands the benefit it brings, that’s going to be a positive,” McClaskey said.
At a large public meeting last week, people railed against building the facility outside Tonganoxie and brought up concerns about pollution and other impacts from the plant, which would be capable of processing 1.25 million birds per week.
“It means for at least 10 years and longer, our culture in this area will revolve around chicken farms and low-paying jobs. Is that the best you can do in our area?” one woman said during the meeting.
Jarret Pruitt is a member of a group opposing the plant, known as Citizens Against Project Sunset. After the announcement that the deal was put on hold, he said they’ll keep watch for any additional developments.
“Today we can smile briefly. Tomorrow we must wake up more committed and determined to continue this fight,” Pruitt said.
Critics of the project were also unhappy that the Leavenworth County deal was brokered behind closed doors and not made public until an announcement earlier this month.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.