Leaders in the northwest Iowa town of Cherokee want to see another company make use of the former Tyson Foods meat-processing plant just outside town, but they say the food company is making it hard to find a new tenant.
The Des Moines Register reports that Tyson continues paying $130,000 annually in rent on the building and holds a clause in the lease allowing it to refuse bids from competitors.
Tyson spokeswoman Caroline Ahn said the company has been in talks with three food companies about the plant. Those deals fell apart, but she said it was not because of competitive concerns.
"We would be willing to entertain an offer from another company, including another food company, that is also consented to by the building owner," Ahn said in a statement. "To date, we have not received a fair offer to take over the lease or purchase the assets that were in the facility."
Cherokee City Councilman Chad Brown said it seems as if Tyson is holding the town hostage. "We want to fill that building, and we want to use the resources that we have out there," Brown said.
The city extended water and sewer services to the plant, which can handle up to 2.5 million gallons of water a day and treat 1 million gallons of wastewater.
City officials say several companies have expressed interest in the facility, which closed nearly two years ago, but Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson's restrictions have made it more difficult to find a new tenant.
Tyson operates several other processing plants in the region. It employs 1,150 workers at a hog-processing plant in Perry, more than 1,500 at pork and turkey plants in Storm Lake, and more than 4,000 in Dakota City, Nebraska.
That has some local officials wondering if Tyson's opposition to a new company in Cherokee has to do with limiting competition for workers.
"It appears they're making their decision based on concerns about the labor pool. . That means they're intentionally working to keep wages low," City Administrator Sam Kooiker said.
New York real estate investor Mark Langfan's family owns the building. Langfan said he can't force Tyson to relinquish control of the site as long as it continues paying rent and keeping up on maintenance and upkeep of the plant.
"The issue is of corporate responsibility when they leave a community. . I just don't understand how a company in America could take the kind of roughshod position that they're taking here," he said.
The current lease extends to 2020, and Tyson said it will continue working to market the plant.
"We share the community's interest in finding another business to use the plant," Ahn said.