By Steven Koranda
Tyson Foods Inc. and Kansas officials unveiled plans Tuesday for a $300 million chicken facility outside Tonganoxie, a town about 15 miles northeast of Lawrence. The project will include a hatchery, feed mill and plant capable of processing more than 1 million birds per week.
Doug Ramsey, Tyson’s group president for poultry, said the complex will employ about 1,600 people and will produce trays of chicken sold at grocery stores.
“So why Tonganoxie? It’s the perfect place if you look at the grain, the plenty of farmland and the great pool of talent that is ready to work,” Ramsey said.
Gov. Sam Brownback hailed the economic investment and job growth that the project will bring to the area.
“This is a step in the right direction to further diversify and grow our state’s economy,” Brownback said. “I think this is a great project and a great day for Kansas.”
Local governments have promised infrastructure improvements and bonds for the facility. The state also will offer tax incentives for the project.
Some Tonganoxie area residents were not happy with the announcement for the plant, which Tyson plans to build on about 300 acres south of town. A presentation about the project was stopped briefly when some members of the audience said, “We don’t want it.”
After the announcement, some residents said news of the plant came as a surprise and they had no chance to weigh in on the project. Tana Walker said she contacted some local elected officials before the announcement who told her they couldn’t talk about the project because they signed non-disclosure agreements.
“NDAs should not have a place in public policy when public funds are involved,” Walker said.
Ramsey said that comes with the territory when developing this type of project.
“Part of the process in searching for a location is you do have to keep things under wraps … to make sure everything is lined up and appropriate before we move,” he said.
Walker recently moved to Tonganoxie, a town of 5,300 in Leavenworth County, and said she’s concerned that the massive plant will lead to pollution, odor and a lower quality of life.
“We really wanted to raise our kids in a small town that would give them a good upbringing and afford them the type of life that we both had,” she said. “We moved here in April to give them that, and now we regret moving here.”
Mary Gergick said she’s concerned the project will affect the “country living” that attracted some residents to the area.
“What is this poultry plant going to bring us?” Gergick asked. “Jobs are great, but at what cost? At what cost to the environment?”
Tyson officials said they will schedule town hall meetings so they can meet with residents to concerns about the project and how to address them.
Brownback said he understands why some residents are upset and he’s encouraged by the response from Tyson, which operates facilities in six Kansas communities that employ about 5,700 people.
“They’re going to comply with every state law and regulation we have. They are a corporate citizen here and have been for 50 years. We’re very familiar with Tyson,” the governor said.
The Tonganoxie plant is scheduled to open in 2019 with starting wages of $13 to $15 per hour.