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Rejection in Tonganoxie could actually help Tyson Foods

Tyson Chicken
Photo by Andrea Gantz

As one community says it does not want a Tyson Foods poultry complex, others are saying they do want it

September 27, 2017

Following widespread opposition from residents and elected officials at the state and county level, it does not appear that Tyson Foods will put its proposed $320 million poultry complex in the Leavenworth County, Kansas, community of Tonganoxie.

Once the Leavenworth County Commission voted to rescind a resolution of intent to provide Tyson Foods with up to $500 million in industrial revenue bonds to support the project, Tyson Foods issued an open letter to the Leavenworth County community, which was signed by Tyson’s Doug Ramsey, Group President, Poultry.

Ramsey, in the letter, stated that Tyson’s plans for the northeastern Kansas county were “on hold,” and that it will “prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.”

Other Kansas communities coming forward

Shortly after the open letter was issued, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey said that more than a dozen Kansas communities have contacted the state to let the Kansas Department of Agriculture know they would be interested in being the home of a Tyson Foods poultry plant.

In south-central Kansas, Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell tweeted to Tyson Foods that his county would like the 1,500 jobs that could be created with the arrival of the poultry complex.

In bordering Reno County, where Tyson already has a presence with two Tyson Fresh Meats facilities, Hutchinson Reno County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debra Teufel told the Hutchinson News that calls from chamber members led to a discussion with the KDA. At the time of that report, she had not yet met with city and county officials to see if there was a desire to submit an official letter of interest to the state.

Just north of Leavenworth County, in Atchison County, the subject of the poultry plant came up in discussions at an Atchison City Commission meeting. According to the Atchison Globe, Mayor Allen Reavis said: “I think the message is that we’re willing to look at anything and see if it will work. I can’t imagine anybody being totally against anything until we find out more about it.”

Outside of Kansas a possibility

Kansas, and its neighbor to the north, Nebraska, are not known for broiler production. But that is changing for Nebraska, as Lincoln Premium Poultry is building a new plant there to process chicken to be sold at Costco stores.

Site selection specialist John Boyd, of The Boyd Co., told the Omaha World-Herald that the new Lincoln Premium Poultry plant could lay the groundwork for Tyson or other poultry companies to consider building a new plant in Nebraska.

“I suspect they’re going to leave Kansas in the dust and look for another low-cost, right-to-work place in the Midwest,” Boyd said. “Nebraska makes perfect sense.”

Let the competition begin

Tonganoxie may not want Tyson Foods, but it is clear that there are other communities that do, and it looks like competition among those places is set to commence.

Communities compete for big businesses to locate in their vicinity all of the time.

For example, I recall a time in the 1990s when Cessna was looking for a place to locate a new aircraft plant. It turned into an all-out battle between Kansas communities to see who could land Cessna.

The town I was living in was vying for the new plant. Even though some of the discussions for city and county government entities’ efforts to woo Cessna were made in public meetings, reporters were being encouraged not to divulge too much information, because another city commission may catch wind of it and try to one-up them.

And even though my town, as one community official said, “offered Cessna the moon with an option for the sun,” Cessna found another place that gave it a better incentives package and seemed to be a better fit for the company’s needs.

Tyson Foods could be in a very similar scenario. It appears Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County was not the best fit for Tyson, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find the right community that will be better for the company in the long run.

Best wishes to Tyson Foods and the home of its future poultry complex.

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