July 14, 2005

Chicken Company Perdue Farms Expands Plants in Georgia Counties

Jul. 14--Perdue Farms is expanding its plants in Houston and Monroe counties, bringing a $155 million investment and 1,000 new jobs to Georgia -- an employment boost of a magnitude rarely seen in the state.

The Maryland-based chicken company plans to invest $146 million by 2009 to expand its Houston County operation in Perry, adding a distribution plant and a cooking plant and doubling the capacity of the existing processing plant. These projects will create 925 jobs.

An additional $9 million will be invested in Perdue Farms' feed mill and hatchery in Monroe County, creating an additional 75 jobs.

The majority of the jobs will be production positions with starting pay of $8.85 an hour, and benefits, after a training period. Perdue Farms also will be looking to fill salaried management, professional and technical positions.

Local farmers may get a boost, too: The company needs 500 additional poultry houses to support increased production at the Perry plant.

Gov. Sonny Perdue -- who is not related to the Perdue Farms family -- is expected to announce the expansions today in Perry, near his hometown of Bonaire.

"Georgia's economy and work force will benefit immensely from this investment by one of our state's outstanding corporate citizens," the governor said in a written statement.

Only a few other businesses have promised to create so many jobs.

In October 2004, Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms said it would bring 1,700 jobs to South Georgia for a new hatchery and feed mill in Adel and a wastewater treatment facility in Moultrie. The chicken-processing company is on track to open Aug. 22 and be fully staffed by June 2006, said Lampkin Butts, president and chief operating officer.

Amazon.com said in 1999 that it would bring about 1,000 people to a new distribution center in Henry County, but the jobs and facility never materialized. Daimler-Chrysler in 2002 promised 3,300 jobs with a new van plant in Pooler, but in 2003 pulled out of the deal.

Perdue Farms' expanded operations will give the privately held company a greater opportunity to satisfy consumers' increasing appetite for chicken products. Demand has grown 3 percent a year for the past 25 years, according to the National Chicken Council, and this year looks to be especially strong.

That's attributed partly to the falling price of chicken. More chickens -- bigger, meatier chickens -- were slaughtered this year than last, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

The average price for boneless, skinless breast meat during the first five months of the year was about $1.47 per pound -- a drop of 26 percent from the same period in 2004.

Also contributing to the increase in demand for chicken is the skyrocketing price of beef. The average retail price of fresh choice beef rose in May to its second-highest monthly price -- $3.73 per pound according to the Economic Research Service.

"We're also getting just excellent support from the food service industry," said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council. "If you look at the menus of major fast-food service providers, fast-food chains and so forth, they have steadily increased their chicken offerings over the years."

In supermarkets, consumers are particularly drawn to time-saving offerings like pre-seasoned, cut-up or pre-cooked chicken -- the sort of stuff Perdue Farms will produce at its expanded Georgia facilities.

"Per capita consumption and our continued growth in the ready-to-cook and value-added products helps our business continue to grow," said Steve Schwalb, vice president of corporate development at Perdue Farms. "There is a lot of square footage available (in Georgia) and a lot of flexibility to continue our growth in ready-to-cook and value-added products."

Perdue Farms acquired a hatchery in Trion in 2002, and expanded in the state in 2004 with the purchase of a processing plant in Perry and its feed mill and hatchery in Forsyth. Since then, Perdue Farms has invested an additional $14 million in the Perry plant.

The 85-year-old company now has 14 food-processing plants in the United States and produces about 50 million pounds of chicken and turkey products per week. Perdue Farms -- which sees its chickens from birth to distribution -- also processes grain and makes vegetable oils and pet food ingredients.


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