Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will be among the dignitaries present to dedicate Cargill’s $111 million cooked meats facility in Columbus, Neb., on April 20. Announced in late 2015, the project to convert Cargill’s fresh ground beef plant to a cooked meats operation adds capabilities the company previously did not have, provides new and existing customers with an expanded portfolio of protein offerings and nearly doubles employment at the facility.
The invitation-only dedication will include community civic and business leaders, state and federal legislators, Cargill employees and customers, construction contractors and other key stakeholders associated with the Columbus plant conversion project. Lunch follows the dedication, featuring a Taco Bell food truck that will be serving tacos containing cooked seasoned ground beef produced at Cargill’s Columbus facility.
“I am thrilled to not only celebrate the completion of a tremendous investment Cargill has made in the Columbus community but also the success of a thoughtful, public/private partnership that has helped retain, develop and engage our local workforce,” Ricketts said. “This is a great example of the opportunities we can create for Nebraskans through collaboration and creativity across multiple organizations.”
Brian Sikes, corporate vice president for Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Protein, said the newest and best equipment and technologies to produce cooked ground beef, sausage, hot dogs and other products have been incorporated into the Columbus facility, underscoring Cargill’s commitment to invest in and grow its protein business by better meeting customers’ needs and expectations. “We take a great deal of pride in knowing this facility, located in America’s heartland, will help us achieve our goal to nourish people in a safe, responsible and sustainable way,” he added.
Brian Niccol, chief executive officer of Taco Bell Corp., said his company is proud to be a part of the dedication event for the project, noting, “Investment in this facility not only provides the scale needed to deliver our customers great-tasting tacos and burritos, but it also is creating much-needed jobs, employee training and economic benefits for the community.”
In addition to the facility’s new capabilities, employment will nearly double -- from approximately 240 people before the conversion to around 460. Some workers displaced when the conversion began have been rehired due to training they received in the interim. Cargill collaborated with Central Community College and the Platte Valley Literacy Assn. -- both in Columbus -- and the Nebraska Department of Labor in an innovative, public/private partnership to craft an adult education program financed by a $465,000 state grant.
The 36-week curriculum was facilitated by Central Community College under the auspices of the Nebraska Department of Labor Columbus Works Training Program and attracted 49 displaced Cargill employees, in addition to more than 100 people retained at the facility.
“This is the most exciting and rewarding training program I’ve been involved with,” Doug Pauley, director of training and development at Central Community College, said in a March 2016 Columbus Telegram article. “This was a way to keep those workers in the community and help them grow personally and professionally.”
Sikes echoed Pauley’s sentiment, saying, “To better ensure that we continue to grow our protein business, it is important to Cargill that we invest in those who work for us, as well as those who are directly impacted by the business decisions we make. Investing in people and communities is part of Cargill’s DNA dating back to the founding of the company more than 150 years ago. We know that we prosper only when the communities where we have a presence thrive, which is the philosophy we embrace.”
As a result of the conversion project, the size of Cargill’s Columbus cooked meats facility was expanded by nearly 50%, to 160,000 sq. ft. It complements the company’s other protein further-processing capabilities at facilities in Nebraska, City, Neb.; Timberville, Va.; Albert Lea, Minn.; Waco and Ft. Worth, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn. In addition to its Columbus and Nebraska City facilities, Cargill operates a large-scale beef harvest and processing facility at Schuyler, Neb., that employsapproximately 2,200 people. Cargill has approximately 4,000 employees in Nebraska at 17 locations throughout the state.