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Food plant to set up in Clinton, hire 200

By John Magsam

This article was published February 21, 2013 at 12:02 a.m.

van-buren-county-emergency-management-coordinator-jeana-williams-left-looks-at-examples-of-global-food-group-products-set-up-at-a-news-conference-announcing-the-company-will-open-a-manufacturing-facility-in-clinton-creating-224-jobs

Van Buren County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeana Williams, left, looks at examples of Global Food Group products set up at a news conference announcing the company will open a manufacturing facility in Clinton, creating 224 jobs.

Food company opening facility in Clinton, adding 224 jobs

Global Food Group will open a manufacturing and packaging facility in Clinton, creating more than 200 jobs for a community that needs them, officials said Wednesday. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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— An Arkansas-based food manufacturer will open a plant in Clinton that will employ up to 224 over the next five years.

Global Food Group said Wednesday that it will invest $4.7 million in the plant that will make sandwiches, quesadillas, tortillas and burritos. The company is renovating a vacant, 135, 000-square-footplant at 245 Quality Drive, once operated by Hickory, N.C.-based Volex Inc. The plant is expected to open in early August.

Global Food Group sells products to Harps, Associated Grocers, Super Value, and Food Giant. It also packages products including chicken tenders, potato products, vegetables, breads, rolls and biscuits. The company is a subsidiary of Cabot-based GlobalPerformance Group.

“We selected Clinton for the quality of the work force,” said Robbie Brown, Global Food Group’s president and chief executive officer.

Brown said the region’s work force is familiar with U.S. Department of Agriculture standards and that many of the plant’s jobs require that expertise, since they involve working with food.

He said plans were to phase in production after the plant opens, so it was unclear how many the plant will employ at start-up.

Pete Giovannini, executive director of the Van Buren County Economic Development Corp., said Wednesday that - excluding jobs generated by natural-gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale - the plant opening is the first good economic news the region has received in years. He said the area has ost more than 800 manufacturing jobs since 2006.

In early 2008, a tornado stuck Van Buren County, killing three people and destroying a boat factory, Rivertrail Inc., in Clinton that employed 80. Later in the year, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., now based in Greeley, Colo .,closed a chicken processing plant in the city, leaving 420 without jobs. When the Volex plant, which made power cords, closed in 2006, the city lost 300 jobs.

Giovannini said jobs in Clinton draw workers from a seven-county area, so the positions won’t help simply Van Buren County or the city. He said workers will make an average of $12 an hour not including benefits. The deal took about 18 months to close, he said.

According to information provided by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, incentives for the deal include a 3 percent state incometax credit on payroll for new jobs for five years; sales-tax refunds on building materials, machinery and equipment for the project; and a $2.5 million community-development block grant to Van Buren County for plant renovations and equipment.

Michael Pakko, chief economist for the Institute of Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the 224 jobs would be 5 percent of the county’s payroll employment for 2012.

“These jobs will make a difference,” he said.

Clinton Mayor Roger Rorie said the plant will help rebuild the city’s manufacturing base, which currently is zero. He credited the governor and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission with helping to put the deal together, adding that he thought improvements to Arkansas 65 helped seal the deal with Global Food Group.

Unemployment in Van Buren County was 9.4 percent in December according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 9.2 percent for the corresponding month in 2011.

Van Buren County’s labor force for December was 7,085, compared with 7,246 for December 2011. The labor force is the total number of employed workers plus the number of unemployed people still looking for work.

Kathy Deck, director of the University of Arkansas’ Centerof Business and Economic Research at Fayetteville, said earlier this month that the state’s labor force was contracting, with 50,000 to 60,000 jobs having been lost since the recession of 2008. She said the result is that workers have either given up looking for jobs or have moved in search of employment.

The state’s unemployment rate for December was 7.1 percent, down from 7.7 percent a year earlier. There were 155,500 employed in the state’s manufacturing sector in December, compared with 156,000 in December 2011.

Deck said food processing is a key state export and a place where Arkansas has a competitive advantage, so seeing expansion in the sector isn’t a surprise.

Statewide, she said, we need more such projects to bolster the work force.

“We have to have a steady stream of these sort of announcements to get back on our feet,” she said.

Business, Pages 23 on 02/21/2013

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