Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts will be among the dignitaries present to dedicate Cargill’s $111 million cooked meats facility in Columbus, Neb., on April 20. Announced in late 2015, the project to convert Cargill’s fresh ground beef plant to a cooked meats operation adds capabilities the company previously did not have, provides new and existing customers with an expanded portfolio of protein offerings and nearly doubles employment at the facility.

This invitation-only dedication will include community civic and business leaders, state and federal legislators, Cargill employees, customers, construction contractors and other key stakeholders associated with the Columbus plant conversion project. Lunch follows the dedication, featuring a trendy Taco Bell food truck adorned with eye-catching graphics that will be serving Crunchy Tacos and Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos containing cooked seasoned ground beef produced at Cargill’s Columbus facility.  

“The newest, and best, equipment and technologies to produce cooked ground beef, sausage, hot dogs and other products have been incorporated into our Columbus facility, underscoring our commitment to invest in, and grow, our protein business by better meeting our customers’ needs and expectations,” said Brian Sikes, corporate vice president for Wichita-based Cargill Protein. “We take a great deal of pride in knowing this facility, located in America’s heartland, will help us achieve our goal to nourish people in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.”

“Taco Bell shares the same growth mindset as Cargill, and is proud to be a part of the dedication event of this massive state-of-the-art project,” said Brian Niccol, CEO, Taco Bell Corp. “Investment in this facility not only provides the scale needed to deliver our customers great tasting tacos and burritos, but it also is creating much needed jobs, employee training and economic benefits for the community.”

In addition to the facility’s new capabilities, employment will nearly double, from approximately 240 prior to the conversion to around 460. Some workers displaced when the conversion began have been rehired due to training they received in the interim. Cargill collaborated with Central Community College and the Platte Valley Literacy Association, both in Columbus, and the Nebraska Department of Labor, in an innovative public-private partnership to craft an adult education program financed by a $465,000 state grant.

The 36-week curriculum was facilitated by Central Community College under the auspices of the Nebraska Department of Labor Columbus Works Training Program and attracted 49 displaced Cargill employees, in addition to more than 100 people retained at the facility. Five-hour, daily, weekday classes included English as a second language, writing, mathematics and computer skills. More than half of the 106 participants moved up one class level within the first two months.

“This is the most exciting and rewarding training program I’ve been involved with,” said Doug Pauley, director of training and development at Central Community College, in a March 2016 Columbus Telegram article. Pauley added, “This was a way to keep those workers in the community and help them grow personally and professionally.”

 Sikes echoes Pauley’s sentiment. “To better ensure that we continue to grow our protein business, it is important to Cargill that we invest in those who work for us, as well as those who are directly impacted by the business decisions we make. Investing in people and communities is part of Cargill’s DNA dating back to the founding of the company more than 150 years ago. We know that we prosper only when the communities where we have a presence thrive, which is the philosophy we embrace.”

 “I am thrilled to not only celebrate the completion of a tremendous investment Cargill has made in the Columbus community, but also the success of a thoughtful public-private partnership that has helped retain, develop and engage our local workforce,” said Governor Ricketts. “This is a great example of the opportunities we can create for Nebraskans through collaboration and creativity across multiple organizations.”  

As a result of the conversion project, the size of Cargill’s Columbus cooked meats facility was expanded nearly 50 percent, to 160,000 square feet. It complements the company’s other protein further processing capabilities at facilities in Nebraska, City, Neb.; Timberville, Va.; Albert Lea, Minn.; Waco and Fort Worth, Texas; and Nashville, Tenn. In addition to its Columbus and Nebraska City facilities, Cargill operates a large-scale beef harvest and processing facility at Schuyler, Neb., employing approximately 2,200 people. Cargill employs approximately 4,000 Nebraskans at 17 locations throughout the state.