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story.lead_photo.caption Above is a drawing of the new plant being planned between Decatur and Gentry at or near Y-City Road.

SILOAM SPRINGS -- Simmons Prepared Foods said Wednesday that it plans to expand its operations in Northwest Arkansas, spending $300 million on a high-tech chicken plant that will create 1,500 jobs.

The plant will be built between Decatur and Gentry and will employ 2,300 workers by 2022, the company said. The 315,000-square-foot facility will produce roughly 850 million pounds of fresh and frozen chicken products annually.

Simmons Foods, the parent company of Simmons Prepared Foods, also said it has plans to increase starting pay at production facilities later this year.

Some processing operations in Decatur will shift to the new chicken facility when construction at the 870-acre site is completed in 2019, Simmons Foods said.

The company said it will create new contracts with local chicken growers to meet the plant's output. Hundreds of chicken houses will be needed in the area to meet Simmons Foods' production goals.

This project is supported by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and the state's Department of Transportation.

According to the state's economic development proposal, the project qualified for four financial incentives: a seven-year payroll rebate program; a sales and use tax refund on construction materials; a grant program for the facility's new infrastructure and the extension of water and wastewater lines from the city of Decatur; and a partnership with the Transportation Department to add a turning lane and stoplight at Arkansas 59 and Y City Road.

Simmons Foods affiliates operate a feed mill, hatchery, chicken processor and a dry pet food facility in Decatur.

The privately owned company hasn't disclosed when it will start construction on the project.

Two months ago, subsidiary Simmons Feed Ingredients broke ground on a new pet food ingredient facility in Siloam Springs. That project will mean 78 new jobs for the area.

"Simmons Foods is one of those families that makes Northwest Arkansas what it is today," said Barry Moehring, county judge for Benton County.

"We are happy to facilitate that."

Wednesday's announcement comes a week after the sudden closing of the Sager Creek Vegetable plant in Siloam Springs that employed more than 230 people.

"We had a plant close, and that was bad news," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "But now we can adjust to that."

On Sept. 20, Del Monte Foods announced that it had sold its Sager Creek subsidiary to McCall Farms Inc. The Siloam Springs production plant, which employed 238 people, closed immediately after Del Monte's announcement.

Wayne Mayes, president and chief executive officer of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, said last week that other companies, including Simmons Foods, would help displaced workers find new jobs.

"Some jobs move on, some move in -- and this one is a great success story," Hutchinson said.

At an event near Hot Springs earlier Wednesday, Hutchinson said the number of people employed in Arkansas has reached an all-time high.

"Our aggressive recruiting nationally and around the world is paying off as more and more industries expand or relocate to Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "From our computer science initiative to the state's strong workforce, companies are taking notice. While there's always more work to be done, these statistics are a good indication that Arkansas' economy continues to trend in the right direction, and -- more importantly -- that Arkansans are finding work."

Simmons Foods said it chose the Arkansas location over potential sites in Oklahoma and Missouri. Based in Siloam Springs, the company employs about 3,700 people in Arkansas.

A Section on 09/28/2017

Print Headline: Chicken plant set for near Gentry

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