Site control landed 200-job milk plant, official says

March 21st, 2016

News Coverage:

March 19, 2016

Site control landed 200-job milk plant, official says

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne beat out sites in Ohio and Michigan to get the Wal-Mart milk processing plant south of Fort Wayne International Airport, excited officials with Greater Fort Wayne Inc. said Friday.

“What gave us the advantage was that we had site control,” Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., said. The land was ready, and City Utilities is able to serve the site along with Heartland REMC and NIPSCO.

“To have a site that meets their needs and is ready to go is huge,” Doden said. “Time is money.”

The Journal Gazette first reported the news about the plant Friday morning.

The plant will generate some short-term construction jobs. Once completed, the plant will employ more than 200 people in jobs with an average starting wage of more than $19 an hour, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation said.

The plant will distribute milk to 600 Wal-Mart stores in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

It will be good news for area dairy farmers, Doden said. Forty percent of Indiana milk is exported and 75 percent of the milk is produced in northeast Indiana. Milk is expensive to transport long distances, so having local demand will be important for local dairy farms.

Among dairy farms, 85 percent have fewer than 100 cows, Doden said.

“It excites us,” he said. “It’s a win-win. It’s an opportunity for small businesses to benefit.”

The processing plant is the first that Wal-Mart is building. It will be a long-term operation, and there is the chance that someday there could be offshoot businesses such as cheese and yogurt preparation.

Doug Leman, executive director of Indiana Dairy Producers, said there has been a need for dairy processing in the state. “I hope this is the beginning. I’m very pleased.”

The cow population in Indiana is concentrated in this part of the state, Leman said. “We have good feed, good water, good transportation,” he said.

Whether having a ready market for their milk will prompt some dairy farmers to expand “is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

“Any growing industry is a healthy industry,” Leman said. “Any operation needs to grow” and bring in the next generation.

“I’m just thankful it’s Indiana,” he said.