CLARION — The Wright County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved some of the final steps in securing a $240 million pork processing plant.
The supervisors unanimously approved a development agreement with Prestage Foods of Iowa and an urban renewal plan, which will allow the county to finance development where Prestage wants to locate.
Development includes constructing wastewater treatment facilities, resurfacing and improving roads and supporting other plant development.
Close to 110 people attended the meeting, with about 40 from Wright and surrounding counties speaking in favor of Prestage during a public hearing. About 12 people from Wright County and outside North Iowa spoke against the plant proposal.
Nicole Woodley, pastor at First Lutheran Church in Clarion, spoke in support of the plant, as did her husband. Speaking about change, Woodley said it’s an opportunity to welcome new people to the community.
“Change is never easy,” Woodley said. “When change is well thought out, fears begin to dissolve.”
Kathy Schnell of Belmond spoke against the agreement and chastised the supervisors.
“I feel that you’re creating a culture of fear — grow or die,” Schnell said.
A Des Moines-based environmental advocacy group said in a statement it wants a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms until the state has fewer than 100 polluted waterways.
“We’re not against agriculture — we’re against corporate ag’s system that traps farmers in a cycle of debt,” Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement organizer Erica Blair said in the statement. “We’re against agribusiness that puts their private profits above our communities and above our environment.
“We can do better. It’s time for big corporations like Prestage, Iowa Select, Monsanto and others to get out of Iowa,” she said in the written statement.
Blair also spoke during the public hearing.
“Prestage is taking advantage of you,” she told the county.
Before the vote, the supervisors took a moment to comment on the project.
“I sense tremendous overwhelming public support,” Supervisor Stan Watne said, referencing several meetings and the feedback he’s received from the public.
Watne said if the county does not try to grow business, population and opportunities, it will continue to shrink.
Karl Helgevold took a moment to thank Economic Development Director Bryce Davis for his work on the development agreement.
There was loud applause from the audience as the supervisors approved the development agreement and urban renewal plan.
“The positive outweighs the negatives,” Helgevold said after the meeting. “We have two years before it’s built and everybody’s working together.”
“I bet you there’s problems we don’t even know about right now, but we’ll overcome them,” Watne said. “We’ve got to grow this rural area.”
Ron Prestage, a company executive, said in a statement he’s pleased the company can move forward with its state-of-the-art plant.
The Mason City Council turned down in May on a tie vote a development agreement for a similar plant proposed by Prestage to be located in Mason City.
“We are investing in Iowa and believe it is good for the state, good for agriculture and good for our family-owned and run business,” Prestage said.
He said the company has been raising hogs in Iowa for more than a decade, and plans to buy 40 percent of the hogs needed for the Wright County plant from local, independent farmers.
After the meeting, Prestage told the Globe Gazette that he expected the supervisors to vote in favor of the agreement.
“Kudos to the Wright County supervisors for doing a very good job of having a healthy, respectful debate in Wright County,” he said. “We look forward now to proving we’re going to do what we said we would do and being an asset to this community.”
Company founder Bill Prestage said the company felt “humbled” and “honored” by the supervisors’ approval.
“This is a great group of people,” Bill Prestage said. “We hope they feel the same as they do today five years from now.”
The next steps are getting the required state and Department of Natural Resource permits. Development Director Davis said the plant is not a sure thing until permits are approved, but passing the county development agreement is a huge step.
“We’ll take this time to prepare for development, to prepare for the growth,” Davis said. “We have a lot of other businesses we’re working with.”
Prestage COO Jere Null said in a statement the company plans to break ground in early spring 2017, with construction finished by late 2018. The company says it will use Epstein Contractors of Chicago as its architect and general contractor due to its experience building food plants worldwide, but plans to employ a number of Iowa contractors during plant construction.
Prestage announced in July it wanted to locate its $240 million pork processing plant near Highway 17 and 320th Street, about 5 miles south of Eagle Grove. The company says it is committed to running a sustainable operation by placing emphasis on clean air, water quality and energy efficiency.
At full strength, Prestage says it will employ about 1,750, with the average worker earning more than $47,000. The plant will boost Wright County payroll by $43 million, according to the company, and will also provide economic benefits to surrounding counties.
The state economic development board last week awarded Prestage a $11.5 million incentive package, which includes an $8.6 million tax credit and $2.9 million tax refund.
Wright County has pledged $12.9 million in local assistance, including $8 million in tax increment financing that will rebate part of the property taxes Prestage will pay.