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Tyson will build a poultry plant in Tennessee, but ‘we’re still interested in Kansas’

Feathers fly over announced Tyson Foods chicken plant in Tonganoxie

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.
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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.

Tyson Foods on Monday announced plans for a new poultry processing plant in Tennessee, but officials say the food giant is still eyeing Kansas, too.

“We have been fully aware they were considering multiple locations and planning to build more than one new complex,” Kansas agriculture secretary Jackie McClaskey told The Star on Monday. “We anticipate positive news in 2018 as we continue to work with multiple Kansas communities and Tyson.”

Plans for a plant in Leavenworth County were put on hold in late September when Tyson faced stiff opposition from the public in Tonganoxie, Lawrence and other surrounding communities.

State officials believed the plant would have been a boon for the agriculture industry within at least a 50-mile radius; opponents worried about pollution and an influx of labor that would strain area infrastructure and schools. A proxy for Tyson has since canceled contracts to purchase large swaths of land south of Tonganoxie.

Tyson previously had stopped short of saying the Leavenworth County site was off the table, but representative Worth Sparkman confirmed on Monday it was no longer being considered.

“Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County are out of the running, so to speak,” he said. “We’ve decided to focus our due diligence on communities that have expressed interest in support of our investment.”

The company has not confirmed other sites in Kansas, but it has been widely reported that Sedgwick, Cloud and Montgomery counties, are among them. The company and state and county negotiators have characterized the talks as preliminary with no firm sites identified. Tyson has also said it is considering other states.

“We may eventually need to build a plant to meet demand,” Sparkman said. “We’re still interested in Kansas.”

The plant announced Monday will be in Humboldt, Tenn., approximately 85 miles from Memphis. Like the plant proposed for Tonganoxie, it is slated to cost about $300 million and have about 1,500 employees.

As to whether the demand for chicken would necessitate another facility to eventually be built in Kansas, Sparkman said, “I can’t speculate on the chicken market at all, I can’t. We need more right now.”

Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said he has not heard anything to indicate that a Tyson plant is off the table in the Wichita area.

And the Department of Agriculture issued a statement congratulating Tyson and Tennessee and looking forward to continuing talks with the company.

“Consumer demand drives growth in the food and agriculture industry, and we have been aware throughout our own discussions with Tyson Foods that their expansion plans included multiple facilities in more than one state, so this announcement was not unexpected,” Ag Department spokeswoman Heather Lansdowne said in a written statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Tyson Foods as they further evaluate expansion of their poultry business unit growth opportunities in Kansas.”

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, dlefler@wichitaeagle.com, @DionKansas

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