Dad’s Pet Care announced Friday that it will hire 44 employees at its Dumas plant as part of a $10 million expansion.
The former Arkat Nutrition plant, which Dad’s purchased in February, was nearly destroyed by a 2007 tornado that caused damage to the plant estimated at $19 million.
The tornado blew through the heart of Dumas’ business district, destroying 25 businesses and putting about 650 people out of work. But Mayor Marion Gill said the plant, which employed 105 at the time of the storm, recovered relatively quickly - it was up and running again withinfour months of the storm.
Most of the openings are for skilled workers: microbiologists, lab technicians, quality technicians, various management positions and skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing and warehouse employees, according to a press release.
“I witnessed the aftermath of the 2007 Dumas tornado, which nearly destroyed this facility,” Gov. Mike Beebe said in the release. “To see the rebuilding and now the expansion of [Arkat] taking place under the new ownership is a testament to the community’s resilience and exciting news for Desha County.”
The plant, which makesdog and cat food as well as feed for catfish and commercial fisheries, has 59 employees.
The expansion will bring the plant up to par with Dad’s Pet Care’s other manufacturing sites around the country, adding product lines and implementing food-safety measures.
Elliot Haverlack, Dad’s chief financial officer, said in an interview that the company plans to do as much of its hiring locally as possible.
The announcement is welcome news in an area that has lagged behind the rest of the state in terms of job growth. In April, unemployment in Desha county was 11.6 percent according to preliminary numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 7.8 percent for the state. If the size of the countywide work force remains the same, the additional 44 workers wouldbring the county’s unemployment rate down almost a full percentage point.
“[The announcement] was greeted with great excitement because we need the jobs, and we appreciate what these jobs mean to our economy,” Gill said.
Arkat opened in 1990 primarily as a catfish feed producer, but has shifted more toward dog and cat food in recent years, a change thatits new owners are accelerating.
Haverlack said the upgrades to the plant will help the company focus on expanding its offerings for household pets. He said Dad’s is evaluating whether to continue producing catfish and commercial fish feed after this year, and will make a final decision this summer.
“We’re learning the aquaculture business and are making connections,” he said.
Haverlack said that if the company does cut its fish feed operations, all those employees will be reassigned and no jobs will be lost.
Americans spent $17.56 billion on pet food in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association, and sales are expected to increase in 2010.