By GRACE GADDY
Sanderson Farms Inc. is halfway there on a two-year timeline to bring a sprawling new poultry complex to Palestine.
Bob “Pic” Billingsley, director of development and engineering, said progress is on track and on schedule for the $124 million complex, which consists of a feed mill, hatchery, poultry processing plant and wastewater facility. 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.”
The company first notified the City of Palestine in February 2013 of its intent to build facilities in the region, with an operations start date planned for January 2015. Stop the clock today, and progress appears to be 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 processing facility off U.S. Highway 79 South.
“The main plant hatchery as you know, there in the business park, is going well and on schedule,” Billingsley said. “That's under contract and that's being built as we speak.”
Mother nature gave a left hook to the processing plant off U.S. Highway 79 South, but other than that, plans are running smoothly there as well, he added.
“The processing plant — obviously we had to deal with weather out there,” Billingsley said. “I think we've had close to 20 inches of rain since we awarded those bids (to a general contractor). It just slowed us down some, but we're still on schedule for the start date — the first quarter of 2015.”
As for the feed mill in Freestone County, Billingsley said they're in the process of awarding bids to a general contractor, who will then commence construction.
“We'll have it out to bid and awarded to a general contractor within the next 60 days. We're in the engineering phase right now, and then we'll go out to bid to a pre-qualified bid list that we've put together.”
Recently, the company has been in touch with community members through local job fairs to round up employees to staff the new facilities. The plant 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.
“Before we picked Palestine, obviously we looked at a lot of different points for us, and one of those was available labor pool and the quality of people we'll get out of that labor pool,” he said. “We are extremely pleased with our job fairs and the quality of people that we've been able to identify and hire. We've been able to secure some people that are going to be very good for our company.”
Billingsley said they'd already “hired a good number of people” for salaried management positions. Next up, the company will seek workers for hourly staff positions.
“We've started our initial process of hiring people, and like I say, we are most pleased with the quality of people we are getting in (the Palestine) area. It'll be a phase of hiring that takes place over the next 18 months, and we're in the initial phase.”
Currently, the new hires are being transported to a Sanderson Farms facility in Waco, Texas 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.”
As for next steps, Billingsley said the company is focused on continuing with construction and hiring.
“What we're in from a construction standpoint is the big deal we've got going on in Palestine — to stay on track with that,” he said, and “continuing to hire and train people to have them prepared. That's the two big things we've got going on right now.”