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Group acquires Tyson’s PB plant

Investors see 170 jobs in ’12 by Paul Quinn | March 14, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.

— A group of California investors has acquired the former Tyson Foods Inc. poultry plant in Pine Bluff and plans to process hens starting in May — possibly creating 170 jobs this year and more than 300 in the next five years, they announced Tuesday.

Horizon Foods LP, a limited partnership formed by a group of California investors, said in a news release that it is currently renovating the plant at 2201 2nd St. in Pine Bluff. The hens will primarily be for shipment overseas, said Rory Botto, who helped bring the investors together.

Botto and other investors had planned a similar facility in December 2007 under the name Pine Bluff Poultry, Botto said, but the recession hit, and many of the investors pulled out.

“The investor group that we put together in 2007 were in the real-estate business in California and the downturn in the economy rendered them unable to put the deal together,” Botto said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I put a new investor group together, comprised of people not in the real-estate business, and we purchased the facility from one of the original investors.”

Botto said the renovations are in the “$3 million range.”

The Tyson slaughterhouse was built in 1957 and closed in 2003. About 300 people worked at the plant. The original investors planned to employ 150 and process spent hens once their egg-laying life was over. A hen normally lays eggs for about 18 months and produces 58 dozen eggs.

The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County will provide Horizon Foods with $329,000 for a refrigeration system, said Lou Ann Nisbett, president and chief executive officer of the alliance.

“We’re excited because it’s taking a building that had been out of use and putting it back in use while also creating ... jobs,” Nisbett said. “We haven’t seen that type of creation in a long time.”

With an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent — or 4,000 people — in December, the Pine Bluff metropolitan statistical area has the highest unemployment rate of any metropolitan area in Arkansas. The city had an unemployment rate of 11 percent in December, the most recent month available.

Michael Pakko, the state economic forecaster at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute for Economic Advancement, said: “One-hundred-fifty to 300 jobs aren’t going to make or break a community, but certainly Pine Bluff can use the increase. Of all the metro areas, it is the one with the highest unemployment in the state.”

Horizon has also applied for two performance-based incentives from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said Joe Holmes, spokesman for the commission. If the company meets the criteria, Holmes said, it will receive a state income-tax credit of 4 percent of the payroll for new jobs for five years. The company also would receive a refund of sales and use taxes on qualifying building materials and taxable machinery and equipment, he said.

In 2000, Botto pleaded guilty in federal court in California to making a false statement to Wells Fargo Bank and was required to pay the bank back $367,000, but that won’t affect Horizon’s application, Holmes said.

“Any company that meets the criteria can get these incentives,” he said.

Botto had no comment about his conviction. According to U.S. Bureau of Prisons records, Botto was released in June 2001.

Botto’s attorney, Tony Hilliard of Pine Bluff, said the conviction did create some problems in getting Horizon off the ground, but that Botto’s “doggedness” helped get the deal accomplished. The company is funded from private investors and not from bank loans, Hilliard said.

Botto’s success with Horizon Foods after his conviction should inspire others with a criminal record, Hilliard said.

“If you look at so many communities these days, there is a high percentage of the male population with convictions, and they say, ‘My life is ruined.’ No it isn’t. There is redemption, there is hope.”

Business, Pages 25 on 03/14/2012

Print Headline: Group acquires Tyson’s PB plant

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