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Responding to concerns from residents of Tonganoxie, Kan., Tyson Foods officials said Friday that they plan to host a community meeting about its decision to build a high-tech chicken processing facility there.

"Some members of the community have shared that they have concerns and we're listening," said Worth Sparkman, Tyson spokesman, in a statement Friday. "We plan to hold a meeting with them in the near future so we can have a productive conversation about all concerns."

Strong demand for chicken led the nation's largest meat producer to designate the small city as the location for a $320 million processing plant, hatchery and feed mill. The facility, designated for a 300-acre site just south of Tonganoxie, population 5,195, would create 1,600 jobs.

"We are growing and need more supply," said Tom Hayes, Tyson president and chief executive officer in an investor conference on Wednesday. "It's something we've been thinking about for a long time and couldn't be more thrilled with what the [Kansas facility] means for future growth."

Tyson has facilities in seven Kansas communities, mostly for beef and pork production.

For the past two years Kansas industry leaders have held meetings about how to improve agriculture in the state. From those meetings, the Kansas Department of Agriculture found 19 sectors with growth potential, including poultry. The poultry industry in Kansas is ranked 34th in the nation, according to the state's Department of Agriculture.

The new Tyson complex will be the company's first push into chicken processing in the state, Sparkman said.

If plans are finalized, Tyson said, the Tonganoxie plant will produce packaged trays of fresh chicken for retailers nationwide.

Tyson's announcement has divided Tonganoxie residents and prompted responses from supporters of the poultry producer and from activist organizations opposed to the plan.

The Kansas Corn Commission and Kansas Growers Association support Tyson, saying the facility will create strong demand for feed grains produced from the state's corn supply. The Tyson Foods project is estimated to increase corn demand by roughly 9.1 million bushels per year, according to a commission release.

In opposition, more than 3,000 people have joined a Facebook group called Citizens Against Project Sunset -- allegedly the code name for the processing facility. Many members are concerned about pollution from the facility and the city's ability to handle rapid population growth.

Additional chicken growers will also be needed to generate a supply of broilers. Travis Justice, chief economist for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said the state would need several hundred poultry growers to supply Tyson.

Some are concerned that the announcement seemed sudden for such a large project.

Kansas Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, whose hometown is Tonganoxie, said there was "a lot of confidentiality involved" and said he didn't know about Tyson's plans until Tuesday.

"As a legislator, I knew about three days ahead of time we were going to have an announcement," Fitzgerald said in a phone message. "And I didn't know until I got to the actual announcement what was going to be going on. Other legislators were in the same situation."

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback worked with Tyson officials and city and county commissioners and various state departments leading up to Tuesday's announcement.

According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, a Tyson Foods consultant approached commerce officials in late March. Department officials in June began working with the Kansas Department of Agriculture to develop an incentive proposal.

"[They] put together a robust incentive package for Tyson which incorporated several economic development programs due to the size and potential economic impact of this project," said Kevin Doel, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Commerce, in a statement.

A date for contract signings was unclear Friday.

"That will depend upon how long it takes the company to submit their paperwork and for a contract to be drawn and signed," Doel said in a statement. "It wouldn't be unusual for it to take up to a year to get contracts executed given the building completion date is 18 months."

Erin Brockovich, the environmental activist who was born in Lawrence, Kan., said Friday that she's received more than 200 emails and several Facebook messages from concerned people in her home state.

Many are concerned about the "air and water pollution and potential health impacts, the smell, damage to property values, destruction of natural woodlands and damage to the livelihood of local family farmers," Brockovich said in an email. "It's been a big response from a small yet vocal and caring community."

Brockovich said many are frustrated with city and state officials for signing a nondisclosure agreement with Tyson and having no public forum beforehand.

Fitzgerald said he expects there will be extensive public discussion.

"I don't think it's a totally in-the-bag situation," he said.

Business on 09/09/2017

Print Headline: Tyson to meet with plant opponents

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