Iowa Officials Hope Pork Plant will Keep Town Vibrant

July 23, 2017 06:04 PM

Eagle Grove City Administrator George McGuire said the planned Prestage hog processing plant in Wright County, Iowa is an example of how an industry can breathe new life into rural areas.

"We're re-inventing ourselves," he told the Globe Gazette. "Out with the old, in with the new."

The $250 million plant is being built about 5 miles south of Eagle Grove.

McGuire acknowledged there's a certain faction of the community that does not know what to expect when the plant, which is expected to employ about 1,000 people, begins operation in about 18 months.

That's a big deal for the people in a town of about 3,600 residents and in a county with a population of about 13,200.

But McGuire said a big industry in a small town is exactly what rural areas need all over Iowa.

"Agriculture is a big part of Iowa's history. People settled here because of agriculture," said McGuire, who has been on the job in Eagle Grove for less than a year.

"Towns sprung up because of needs. A lot of towns are now ghost towns because they did not fill a need. If towns like Eagle Grove want to stay vibrant, there has to be a need," he said. "That's why Prestage is right for Wright County. People understand how important agriculture is to our area. We're fulfilling a need."

Construction is expected to be complete in November 2018.

Bryce Davis, director of Wright County Economic Development, said the area is already experiencing benefits.

"Since day one of construction, we have seen the economic engine begin to move," said Davis.

"There are many contractors on-site that are renting available properties around the region, filling up hotels and visiting local restaurants throughout the day," he said.

Davis said many nearby communities will also benefit from the expanding employment base and job growth that will come from ancillary businesses that crop up.

Also, Davis said he is expecting significant capital investment for business development and new residential projects throughout the county, all as a result of Prestage.

Jere Null, chief operating officer of Prestage, said many Iowa contractors are working at the site, including Yohn Co. of Clear Lake. Other contractors hired by Prestage are from Des Moines, Fort Dodge and Eldora, he said.

Last year, Prestage had plans to build a plant in Mason City that was to employ close to 2,000 workers over a four-year period.

Its announcement drew a lot of fanfare that included an appearance by then-Gov. Terry Branstad and an audience that included city, county and EDC officials and many civic leaders.

Several public meetings held after the announcement grew contentious as residents complained that city officials were rushing the process through without answering crucial questions. They also expressed health and safety concerns because of the environmental impact the plant would have.

Organized peaceful protests were held prior to two City Council meetings. Each meeting lasted seven hours because of the amount of public comment received.

On May 3, by a 3-3 vote, the council rejected a development agreement with Prestage, striking down the project.

The company then sought other locations for its plant. The Wright County Board of Supervisors gave Prestage the go-ahead in August 2016.

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