The Conagra factory is by far the largest employer in northwest Missouri’s Trenton, according to Phil Tate. Conagra recently announced it was making final preparations to close the plant at the end of May – a devastating blow to the town of 6,000 and its neighboring communities. Conagra has been shuttering its doors and cutting costs at several of its factories across the country.
Tate, a former Missouri Department of Economic Development official, and Micah Landis of the North Central Missouri Development Alliance have been working quietly and tirelessly for several months to find a company to not only save the Conagra plant, but in many ways, save the community. That day finally came this month when Nestle announced it has reached an agreement with Conagra to take over the facility on June 1 – keeping the assembly line flowing without any disruptions.
According to Landis, a job fair held in Trenton last Thursday has yielded the hiring of more than 100 people and the company plans to hire another 20 salaried workers in the next two weeks. That figure is not the nearly 300 jobs once at the plant, but it has a great impact on many area households and businesses.
The factory that has employed nearly 300 people with good-paying jobs has brought stability to the area’s main street businesses, real estate, utilities, and school districts. Some of that stability has been lost by Conagra’s planned closure, but the community can now work to restore what has gone astray.
You can hear the undying relief and gratefulness in the voices of Landis, Tate and State Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, as they talk about Nestle’s acquisition. Tate, also a former Democratic State Representative from Gallatin, tells Missourinet the community feels like a huge burden has been lifted off its shoulders.
“I’ve worked a lot of projects for the Department of Economic Development where went into Kansas City and announced maybe 500 new jobs or 700 new jobs. I’ll tell you what, when you come in to a small community like Gallatin or even one larger than Trenton and announce 150 jobs, you will get a whole lot more enthusiasm and energy than you will in Kansas City or St. Louis for the bigger numbers jobs because it makes a big difference in a small community,” Tate says. “Nestle is such an outstanding corporation with a real community conscience. That’s the reason we were able to negotiate this kind of a favorable agreement for the community.”
Black agrees that Nestle has lifted the spirits of the people.
“Boy this was a cloud over the community. No matter what good thing happened, this was putting a shadow over it. The attitude with the people I’m around have totally changed. This is more than just jobs for that area. This is an important economic engine within Grundy County and within the City of Trenton,” he says.
According to 2016 statistics from the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the average annual income of individuals living in Grundy County is about $33,000.
Black thinks Nestle saving the factory will spark an increased focus on area businesses.
“I think it’s going to cause a new emphasis on ‘Let’s go out and try to do something great or let’s try to help another company be stronger in our community. It’s very important to retain what we have, especially in the area I’m from because it’s not as fluid,” Black tells Missourinet. “New companies don’t show up and just open doors overnight in that rural area.”
A negative impact that could have been felt by the area from a plant closure would have been by way of utility costs.
“Forty percent of Trenton municipal utility’s revenue, forty percent came from this plant. If this plant had closed, you can only imagine what kind of increases there would’ve been on the population of the people of Trenton to make up those differences,” Tate says.
The company is hiring full-time employees with the possibility of adding more lines and workers in time. The full-time approach is welcomed in an era when many manufacturing businesses are hiring temporary workers to avoid paying benefits and arguably spending greater costs re-training new employees because of an increased revolving door.
Tate says Nestle’s hiring strategy has always been to hire full-time staff. The approach also brings a sense of security to workers who want something permanent, instead of 90 to 180-day employment, for example.
“Being able to come back with 150 jobs at a very similar pay rate and the health care and benefits as well, is going to take care of by far the largest number of people who would have been unemployed,” Tate says.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development tells Missourinet the average annual salary position of a Nestle worker in the small rural town will be more than $41,000. The Conagra plant is an organized union factory and Nestle plans to continue operating it as one. Nestle has assured Tate that it has both union and non-union factories and it has no intention of “union busting” the Trenton location.
Tate and Black are also thrilled there are no incentive “giveaways” to the company. Through negotiations, a local agreement has been made of up to $75 million in Chapter 100 industrial revenue bonds that can be purchased by the company. Tate says these bonds mean there is no risk to the community. The bonds ensure that Trenton area taxing entities will continue to receive the same amount of tax revenue from the company for the first five years and a slightly lower amount for the following five years.
The Ohio-based company is starting off with a $55 million project but it wants bonding capacity of up to $75 million. Tate says that indicates Nestle is planning on additional equipment and improvements to the building.
“That just means more employment and more jobs for the people of the region,” he says. “We think that is very much of a distinct possibility over the next few years,” Tate says.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development is also allowing $2 million in incentives paid for through tax withholdings – not through the state budget – which would otherwise be collected by the company. Tate thinks the state could also do some additional funding in job training for the company.
Nestle’s ownership of the Trenton factory is not its first rodeo there. The company owned the location years ago, but it’s unclear when and why Nestle parted ways. The renewed relationship with the northwest Missouri region is one that Black says has ended the mindset that “the sky is falling” and will instead give a much-needed boost to the community.
Copyright © 2018 · Missourinet