By GRACE GADDY
In January, the last time the Herald-Press received an update on the $124 million Sanderson Farms poultry complex being constructed in the area, progress was reported to be on track, minus a few minor delays – per compliments of Mother Nature.
As of Thursday, construction is still in motion and on schedule, according to Bob “Pic” Billingsley, director of development and engineering.
“We've had to deal with elements out there, with the rainy weather since we've gotten under construction in November, but we can't control that – we just have to deal with it,” he said. “From a construction standpoint everything’s on schedule as planned – no surprises.”
The most recent step, Billingsley told the Herald-Press, is that the company awarded a bid for construction to a general contractor for the feed mill in Freestone County. This brings the entire complex – which consists of a feed mill, hatchery, poultry processing plant and wastewater facility – a little over the halfway point on a two-year timeline to plant a sprawling new poultry processing complex in Palestine, which will serve customers across the United States.
The main plant and hatchery is being constructed in Anderson County and the feed mill will set up operations in nearby Freestone County.
“Everything is going just as we planned in Palestine,” Billingsley said. “All the projects are on schedule. We've got everything under construction out there that we'll build, and we're in the process of interviewing and selecting contract producers to support the complex – independent agribusiness people out there who will build the houses and contract with us to raise the birds for us.”
Billingsley said the complex would process 1,250,000 birds a week — that's 250,000 a day or 16,800 an hour, if you don't care to whip out your calculator.
“For that part of the project, we'll need approximately 500 houses,” he added – an investment totaling approximately $170 million to support the local complex.
The company first notified the City of Palestine of its intent to build facilities in the region in February 2013, with an operations start date slated for January 2015. Stop the clock today, and all appears on schedule.
The $17 million, 65,000 square foot hatchery facility is under construction in Willow Creek Business Park off S. Loop 256 in Palestine, as well as the $75 million, 70,000 square foot processing facility off U.S. Highway 79 South.
Also in motion, Billingsley said the company still is in the process of hiring employees to staff the new facilities. The complex is expected to bring more than 1,000 full-time jobs to the area, adding an annual payroll of more than $21 million to Anderson County.
Billingsley said the local labor pool was one of the main factors Sanderson Farms considered when deciding where to build the new poultry processing complex. That, and the fact there's a railroad, since the corn and soy bean meal that makes up the chickens' feed is transported by rail.
Billingsley said they'd already “hired a good number of people” for salaried management positions, though there are more spots available, as well as for hourly staff positions.
He said people could apply by application on the website at http://www.sandersonfarms.com/careers/open-positions.
Billingsley said the new hires are being transported to a Sanderson Farms facility in Waco for training.
“That is one of the things that has made this process of hiring people so good — we've got a facility close by in Waco that will allow those people to be trained and prepared once our facilities open in 2015.”