Mars Petcare is investing nearly $120 million into its Fort Smith operation as pet food demand rises, capitalizing on earlier expansion plans and producing even more jobs.
The Mars Petcare expansion will mean 140 new, full-time jobs at the site and will add two production lines, a new warehouse and pay for equipment updates, according to a Wednesday release by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission on behalf of Mars Petcare.
The $117 million investment comes on the heels of a $145 million expansion touted in January, which will also add two production lines and is expected to produce an additional 120 jobs. The projects are expected to be completed in 2023.
"Pet parents are at the center of everything we do, and at Mars Petcare, we're committed to answering their evolving needs as a trusted partner for pet parents," Ikdeep Singh, Regional president of Mars Pet Nutrition North America, said in a statement. "The role of pets in our lives has grown even stronger during the pandemic, and our latest investment in Fort Smith enables us to deepen our commitment to our Associates and the City of Fort Smith while also living our purpose: A Better World For Pets."
The Fort Smith plant is a key producer of Mars Petcare's tray format foods in brands like Cesar, Sheba, Nutro, Iams and Crave. Around the beginning of 2021 the company employed about 3oo workers at its 10000 Roberts Blvd. plant in Chaffee Crossing. Based on earlier reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the plant will have 10 production lines when the expansions are finished.
Tim Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, said in a Wednesday interview that the project shows Mars Petcare's continued commitment to Fort Smith, adding the city has seen several key announcements over the past year that bring more technical manufacturing jobs rather than the labor intensive ones of the past.
"We're seeing a significantly different skill set with these jobs, which pay a 30% to 40% higher wage," Allen said.
In early January, Jonesboro-based Hytrol Conveyor Co. said it will invest $20 million in a new Fort Smith facility that is expected to add 250 jobs over the next five years, and in September the company said it wants to add 100 more at the site.
In February, Owens Corning said it is investing $107 million to build a new manufacturing facility next to its existing property in Fort Smith where it makes insulation, roofing and fiberglass composite materials. Plans are for Owens Corning to close its old plant once the new one is completed in 2023, shifting about 80 workers to the new plant and then adding about five more.
Mars Petcare said that over the past year demand for wet pet food has risen nearly 18%. The two expansions at the Fort Smith plant are expected to grow the Fort Smith's location's production capacity by more than 75%.
Mars Petcare received state incentives including $983,500 from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund, along with $145,000 in training grants, according to Chelsea O'Kelly, director of communications for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Mars Petcare also qualified for Arkansas' Tax Back Program and three years of the Create Rebate Program.
The preliminary unemployment rate from the U.S. Department of Labor for July in the Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area stood at 4.5%, down from 7.5% for the same period a year ago. Arkansas' unemployment rate was 4.2% for August, down from 6.5% a year ago.
The civilian labor in the statistical area was a little more than 119,900 in July, up from about 118,490 for the same period last year. The Fort Smith statistical area includes Sebastian, Crawford and Franklin counties in Arkansas, and LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma.
The Mars Petcare facility in Fort Smith opened in 2009 and is one of 14 Mars Petcare sites around the U.S. The company has invested a total of nearly $540 million in its Fort Smith operation, according to the release.