Sanderson Farms Evaluates Cumberland County for New Chicken Processing Plant

US - An official with Sanderson Farms Inc. confirmed Wednesday (16 July) the company is evaluating Cumberland County for a potentially new chicken processing plant.
calendar icon 18 July 2014
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Bob "Pic" Billingsley said the publicly traded company based in Laurel, Mississippi, is building a new plant in Palestine, Texas, and is always evaluating other sites for growth in its business.

He confirmed a Fayetteville Observer report Tuesday that said Sanderson Farms was considering whether to build a processing plant employing more than 1,000 people at the county-owned Cedar Creek Business Center east of Interstate 95.

"What we are doing is we are gathering information, fact-finding and evaluating sites, to see if Fayetteville will be a potential site for us sometime down the road," said Mr Billingsley, the company's director of development and engineering.

He couldn't provide a timeline of when the company might announce any more plant expansions, and he declined to comment on how serious the company's interest is in the Cumberland County site.

Almost two years ago, the company abandoned its plans to build a plant in Nash County amid opposition and pending lawsuits seeking to block the project.

The company says it's the third largest poultry producer in the US, with more than $2.6 billion in sales last year.

Public officials in Fayetteville, as well as the economic development recruiter for the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, said they cannot comment about prospective new industry until companies are ready to go public.

There is speculation that Sanderson Farms may announce its decision within the next three months or so.

Mr Billingsley said he was in Fayetteville on Tuesday to talk with some families who own land around the empty industrial center on Cedar Creek Road.

He said any new plant might be comparable to a $120 million Sanderson Farms complex that began operating in 2011 in Kinston, an hour southeast of Raleigh.

The plant is now in full production, employing 1,600. The complex includes a feed mill and hatcheries.

Each week, the Kinston plant processes 1.25 million chickens, which are sold in North Carolina to Harris Teeter stores, where the product is re-branded as fresh Harris Teeter chicken.

To feed the Kinston operation, the company relies on about 500 chicken houses, spread over four or five counties around Kinston, Mr Billingsley said. The company contracts the chicken barns with private growers.

If a plant were built in Cumberland County, he said, the company would have to create a similar supply of chickens in newly built barns across a four- or five-county region around Fayetteville.

Kinston's 33-year-old mayor, BJ Murphy, said Sanderson Farms has been a good corporate citizen, supplying thousands of families with ice in 2011 after Hurricane Irene cut off power to the city for nearly a week.

The plant is the largest in Lenior County, which has about 59,000 residents.

"They are supplying 1,600 families with stable income," Murphy said. "Because let's face it: Who doesn't like chicken?"

The plant is permitted by the state to treat 1.4 million gallons of wastewater a day. That treatment plant has not been cited for any violations, according to the N.C. Division of Waste Resources.

The waste is then spread over more than 600 acres of fields around Kinston, helping Sanderson Farms to commercially grow hay, Mr Billingsley said.

Poultry slaughter houses are inspected by the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service, where records about the Kinston operation were not readily available Wednesday.

Mr Billingsley said most of the other US poultry producers have grown by acquiring older plants, but Sanderson Farms prefers building modern facilities to control odors and improve safety and cleanliness.

"We have taken a different approach," he said. "We build new assets."

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