Feathers fly over announced Tyson Foods chicken plant in Tonganoxie

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.
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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.
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Tyson Foods puts Tonganoxie poultry plant plans ‘on hold,’ will explore other sites

By David Frese And and Hunter Woodall

dfrese@kcstar.com

hwoodall@kcstar.com

September 19, 2017 04:40 PM

Tyson Foods has placed its planned poultry complex near Tonganoxie “on hold.”

In a letter to the Leavenworth County community on Tuesday, Tyson poultry president Doug Ramsey wrote, “We’d still like to get to know each other, however, after Monday’s reversal of support by the Leavenworth County commissioners, we will put our plans in your community on hold. We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.”

As of Wednesday morning, more than a dozen communities in Kansas have contacted the state about having Tyson build the proposed $320 million plant in their area, said Jackie McClaskey, Kansas secretary of agriculture.

“There are a lot of discussions happening among local leadership in some of those communities who were paying attention,” McClaskey said. “They’re getting ready, so to speak, to put their names forward.”

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Tyson’s letter comes two weeks after the company announced it would build a state-of-the art complex south of Tonganoxie. The plant would have employed 1,600 workers and processed 1.25 million birds each week. The news was met with protest and concerns from residents.

On Monday morning, Leavenworth’s Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to rescind its resolution of intent to issue industrial revenue bonds. The resolution had outlined a possible financing structure for the project — once known as “Project Sunset” — including possible tax abatements and bonds, but it was not a contract.

At that meeting, Commisioner Clyde Graeber stepped down because of health reasons, further putting the process in a state of limbo.

“Our steps are limited until they name a new commissioner,” said Tyson Foods representative Worth Sparkman.

Monday night, four of the five members of Tonganoxie’s city council said they didn’t think Tyson Foods was the right fit for the community, though no action was taken.

State Rep. Jim Karleskint, a Tonganoxie Republican, said he wasn’t surprised at Tyson’s announcement, based on “all the opposition from the community.”

“I hope they’re able to find a place,” he said. “But, you know, as I said on Friday night, I’m not in support of them moving to the area.”

A community town hall hosted by Karleskint, state Sen. Tom Holland and state Rep. Willie Dove on Sept. 15 in a Tonganoxie park drew an estimated 2,000 people from around the region, police said. Tonganoxie’s population is about 5,000.

When reached by phone, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback did not immediately comment on Tyson’s change of plans. Brownback had joined Tyson officials Sept. 5 for their initial announcement about the proposed plant, saying then, “This is a step in the right direction to further diversify and grow our state’s economy.”

McClaskey told The Star that developments since the announcement were a bit of a letdown for the state.

“The challenge we face is we were dependent on the local leadership to determine that this would be a good project for the area — and we continue to believe it would be a good project for the area,” she said. “It’s disappointing to see that perhaps the community and local leadership weren’t on the same page on the right ways to grow Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County.”

Jen Peak, a representative for opposition group Citizens Against Project Sunset, said her organization was encouraged, but added: “We are also concerned that Tyson’s statement leaves the door open for this project in either Leavenworth County or surrounding areas.”

The new poultry plant is still a priority for the future of the company, Ramsey wrote in the open letter.

“We also believe it will be a significant boost — and not just economically — for the right community,” he wrote.

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

Tyson’s letter

Open Letter from Tyson Foods to the Leavenworth County Community:

Over 5,700 Tyson Foods “team members” are proud to live and work in Kansas. We care about each other, our communities and our company. We successfully operate six facilities in the state, provide thousands of good paying jobs and generate an annual economic impact of about $2.4 billion in Kansas. This goes back decades and in some cases we’ve been growing with our Kansas communities for over 50 years. Given our success here it made a lot of sense to consider new growth plans in Kansas.

We were invited by state and local leaders to build a new $320 million poultry complex in your community. They encouraged us to come to Leavenworth County. In a show of support, the county commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to use industrial revenue bonds for the project. We saw this shared investment, and the $150 million in annual economic impact it would have, as a win for the company and the people of Leavenworth County.

Given the scope of our project, we knew there would be questions and recognized that you would have an important voice in the decision-making process. That’s why we met with some of you after our initial announcement, planned more meetings and offered community leaders a chance to see our facilities first hand. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to reach as many of you as quickly as we had hoped. As a result, most of you haven’t gotten to know us very well. For example, you may not know the following:

▪ We are a diverse team that shares core values that call us to operate with integrity and respect.

▪ Delivering sustainable food at scale is at the heart of our strategy, we share a comprehensive sustainability report every year and have recently made significant commitments to healthier workplaces, healthier animals and a healthier environment.

▪ We operate under a Team Member Bill of Rights and provide competitive wages as well as benefits that include health insurance, retirement savings and stock purchase programs, tuition reimbursement, paid vacation and holidays.

▪ Tyson Foods was recognized in 2017 by Fortune magazine as No. 1 on the World’s Most Admired Companies list in the Food Production segment.

We’d still like to get to know each other, however, after Monday’s reversal of support by the Leavenworth County commissioners, we will put our plans in your community on hold. We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.

This is a good project that we are deeply passionate about. It’s important to the future of our company and our ability to serve our customers. We also believe it will be a significant boost — and not just economically — for the right community.

Doug Ramsey

Group President Poultry

Tyson Foods, Inc.