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Tax abatement granted for LaGrange County cheese company

August 14th, 2018

By Patrick Redmond | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The company that owns a Shipshewana-area cheese production plant was finally awarded a nearly $5 million tax abatement by the LaGrange County Council members Aug. 13, reversing an earlier decision by the council denying the abatement.

Representatives of The Middlebury Cheese Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Michigan Milk Production Association, a farmer owned co-op based in Novi, Mich., appeared at city council meeting to make their pitch for the abatement for their rural Shipshewana plant. The co-op purchased the former Guggisberg Cheese plant, 11275 W. County Road 250 North and renamed it Heritage Ridge Creamery in June of 2017.

Kaylan Kennel, the director of manufacturing for MMPA, told the council members his company is in the midst of a major upgrade of the Shipshewana facility as it works to increase the plant’s overall production. Shelia Burkhardt, an MMPA senior director, said the plant has a working relationship with about 113 dairy farmers in the area. The plant produces cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack varieties of cheeses.

The company applied for a $2.6 million, 10-year tax abatement on equipment and another $2.2 million tax abatement on real estate that was on the council’s July agenda. But when no one from the company showed up for that meeting and plans with the county’s building department could not be found, the council members rejected that tax abatement proposal.

This time around, the MMPA sent out its A-team of corporate professionals. After meeting with several LaGrange County building and zoning officials, the MMPA squared away all the required paperwork to move ahead with its planned upgrades.

MMPA attorney Todd Hoppe told the council member the company’s failure to appear at the last council meeting had been a simple misunderstanding.

LaGrange County attorney Kurt Bachman told the council members they were well within their rights to repeal and rescind the earlier denial of the tax abatement and give the firm “a second bite at the apple” if they wanted. The council quickly overturned its previous decision, allowing the company to make its pitch for the abatement.

In addition to building a new milk-receiving bay and lab, the company also plans to re-roof the entire facility and build new labs and workspace within the plant. Kennel said he also plans to hire an additional 18 workers to add to its current workforce of 22.

Kennel said the plant currently produces between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds of cheese a month, and hopes to be able to increase that number to between 750,000 and 1 million pounds once all the upgrades are finished and the new staff is hired.

The tax abatement was approved by a 7-0 vote.

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