Let's talk economic development today. We're trained to believe that in America, any economic development opportunity that brings thousands of jobs to a local community - especially in the rust belt or the rural midwest - would be welcomed by all in that community.
That's wrong. Whether you understand that or not probably depends on whether you have smelled a big, corporate chicken/hog farm before.
Here's some background - On Sept. 5, executives from Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s largest meat processor, traveled to the east Kansas town of Tonganoxie with what they figured would be welcome news for the locals. Joined by Governor Sam Brownback and other political leaders, Doug Ramsey, Tyson’s group president for poultry, unveiled plans to build a huge chicken complex outside of town. The $320 million project, Tyson’s first new plant in 20 years, would be home to a hatchery, feed mill, and processing plant—employing about 1,600 workers to package 1.25 million birds a week.
Great news, right?
Wrong. The citizens didn't want anything to do with the plant. All you have to do is look at the numbers to understand why, provided here by BusinessWeek:
Tyson’s foray serves as a blueprint for how not to build a new chicken plant. First, the company may have overestimated how badly the jobs were needed. Members of the opposition say most residents are employed in nearby Topeka, Kansas City, and Lawrence, leaving few locals who’d want meatpacking jobs. Median annual household income in Leavenworth County is $63,726, $11,521 more than for the state of Kansas and $9,837 greater than the national median. The median wage of workers who cut or trim poultry, meat, or fish is $11.77 an hour for an annual income of about $24,490, according to May 2016 government data.
A quick look at the map below tells you all you need to know. That standard of living comes from the aforementioned proximity to Lawerence (rock chalk), Kansas City and Topeka. Here's your map:
To be sure, immigration and the prospect of a sudden influx of workers into a community - to take the jobs others don't want - plays a part too.
If you go read the story, it's a good case study of a company like Tyson AND the local government assuming the community would be in support of the economic development provided, only to be surprised.
From a workforce planning perspective, it's a good reminder for companies to find the sweet spot of a community that will embrace the flavor of jobs you're providing when launching a new plant. That sweet spot can be defined as enough labor at the right price point to sustain the model. Always harder than it looks, especially when the product is chicken processing plants.
While I'm talking about small town America, check out this BW article about small towns relying on Dollar General as their economic hub. The town featured - Decatur, Arkansas - would LOVE to have that chicken plant. But alas, they're two small.
The right place for economic development involving chicken processing plants? Somewhere between Decatur and Tonganoxie, as it turns out.