Benton County, AR — Siloam Springs-based Simmons Foods will build in western Benton County between Decatur and Gentry a $300 million poultry processing complex that is expected to add 1,500 jobs. Company officials said they plan to begin operations at the new facility in 2019.
Employment related to the new complex could rise to 2,300 by 2022, the company noted in a statement issued Wednesday (Sept. 27) by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
“We’re thrilled to bring this project to our community and are grateful for the cooperation from the cities of Decatur and Gentry, local officials, Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the State of Arkansas,” Todd Simmons, CEO of Simmons Foods, noted in the statement. “This project positions us to continue meeting our customers’ needs.”
The complex for Simmons Prepared Foods, a Simmons Foods subsidiary, will also result in new chicken farm contracts with Arkansas farmers. The complex is designed to provide chicken for retailers and restaurants with capacity to sell approximately 850 million pounds of poultry meat annually at full production. Simmons Prepared Foods is a farm to fork poultry producer.
The design will feature modern production facilities and contemporary office space supported with modern environmental technologies. Simmons also plans to increase starting pay at production facilities later this year.
“Simmons Foods is a homegrown company that continues to invest heavily in Northwest Arkansas,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson who attended the announcement event at Simmons Great Hall on the John Brown University campus. “This announcement comes just two months after the company held a ribbon-cutting at its new pet food ingredient facility in Siloam Springs, which goes to show the faith they have in the area’s workforce and their commitment to the state. We competed with both Oklahoma and Missouri for this project, and I’m proud to say we won.”
Simmons’ existing operations in the Decatur area include a feed mill, hatchery, propane business, business offices and a chicken processing facility, along with a dry pet food production facility operated by Simmons Pet Food. Some processing operations will transition from the existing facility to the proposed plant once construction is complete.
The company now has six processing plants producing 750 million pounds of finished product per year for customer brands around the world.
Simmons management chose to keep the new plant close to its home base in Benton County where it has a large grower network and a feed mill. The new facility will be located next to the feed mill on U.S. 59, north of Gentry and south of Decatur.
Talk Business & Politics asked company officials if they shopped the complex to other states.
“Simmons evaluated a number of strong opportunities. This site presented a great option to build on our current workforce and strategically grow our business. Benton County is a strong community and we believe in this workforce. This project reflects a strong partnership with local communities and businesses, farmers and the State of Arkansas. We are very grateful for the outstanding support from both the communities of Decatur and Gentry as well as Siloam Springs,” said Donny Epps, corporate spokesman for Simmons Foods.
Epps said the new facility will represent about a 60% increase in capacity as existing operations will move into the new, modern locations once it’s completed. The plant will be an estimated 315,000 square feet and will have processing capacity of 850 million pounds annually, more than double 750 million pounds of product capacity at its six present locations.
Local officials applauded the announcement.
“Entrepreneurial families built the backbone of our community,” said Benton County Judge Barry Moehring..“We are fortunate to have great, role model businesses in Northwest Arkansas. Simmons is one of those.”
Wayne Mays, CEO of the Siloam Springs Chamber, told Talk Business & Politics the 1,500 jobs in western Benton County are vote of confidence by one of the state’s largest private employers.
“It’s a big win for western Benton County and the entire region in terms of jobs,” Mays added.
With the recent closure of Del Monte and the loss 238 manufacturing jobs earlier this month in that city, Mays said the existing manufacturers including Simmons, Cobb Vantress, La-Z-Boy, Gates and others were contacted and they have more open positions than were lost with the Del Monte closing.
“A goodly number of those displaced at Del Monte will be able to transition to one of our manufacturers,” Mays said.
Nathan Reed, director of economic development for the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the pulse at the announcement was “electric.” We would have liked the plant to be in Siloam Springs but it will be close enough that our workforce will definitely benefit.”
Mike Harvey, chief operating officer of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said it is the biggest jobs announcement in food manufacturing since he joined the council in 2006.
“The impact is significant for the community in rural Benton County. This is 1,500 new jobs that don’t all pay $12 or $13 per hour. There will be plenty of higher paying jobs in maintenance, supervisor roles and plant management associated with this large plant,” Harvey said.
Mays said 40% of the city’s workforce comes from eastern Oklahoma which are some of the poorest areas in that state. He said the top issue for the region’s manufacturers continues to be workforce issues. He said Simmons has been a leader in Siloam Springs CASS program that equips high school students with manufacturing skills including welding and diesel mechanics.
“I like to think Simmons is rewarding the region with this gift because they see firsthand how our cities across Northwest Arkansas are trying to organically grow a young manufacturing workforce for today and tomorrow,” Mays said.