10/26/10 — Decision on plant location by end of year

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Decision on plant location by end of year

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 26, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County officials could know by mid-December whether or not the county will be the recipient of an early Christmas present -- a $94 million chicken processing plant that would employ more than 1,000 people.

Mike Cockrell, CFO for Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, Monday morning confirmed that Wayne County, and the Rocky Mount area in Nash County to the north, remain in contention for the facility.

No location has been identified in Wayne County, but speculation is that it would be located north of Goldsboro.

"We are still looking," Cockrell said. "We have not made a final decision yet. We are still committed to the project and we are still going to build it. We hope by mid-December to announce what we are going to do."

The project was announced last spring.

The delay in settling on a location has nothing to do with the economy -- the company has enjoyed a "very good year," Cockrell said. Rather it is all driven by property, and the company has a list of 45 very specific criteria that the land must meet, he said.

Land that fails to meet the requirements will not be considered. Cockrell said the company is "very diligent" about ensuring the land meets all company requirements.

Meanwhile, training for employees at the new Sanderson facility in Kinston will get under way in November, he said.

"We started setting the eggs (Monday) morning that will be the first chickens processed in that plant," he said.

The Kinston plant was not only completed on schedule, but under budget as well, he said.

"We are chomping at the bit to get on that other (project)," he said.

The second project would consist of an expansion of the feed mill for the Kinston plant, a hatchery, a processing plant with capacity to process 1.25 million "big bird" chickens per week and a wastewater treatment facility.

Construction could begin in the spring if the land can be found.

The company needs 100 acres for the plant itself and between 400 and 500 acres for a hay spray field. It could begin operation in June 2012 and be at full capacity within 15 months after that.

Sanderson Farms did $1.8 billion in sales last year and posted net sales of $487 million for the second quarter of the year and earnings of $35 million, a record for the company.

Sanderson Farms has been a publicly traded company since 1987 and is the fourth-largest poultry company in the country processing 8.1 million chickens a week, he said.