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Pure Prairie Farms plans Charles City ‘town hall meeting’ to introduce company to community

Pure Prairie Farms plans Charles City ‘town hall meeting’ to introduce company to community
The new signage may be just temporary for now, but Pure Prairie Farms Inc. has taken over the former Simply Essentials chicken processing plant in Charles City and is getting it ready to reopen, probably by this summer, company officials say. The business is even considering working with the city to expand the facility toward Main Street. Press file photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

Pure Prairie Farms Inc., the new owners of the former Simply Essentials property in Charles City, has growers lined up to supply chickens for processing and is making steady progress toward opening sometime in the next several months, one of the company’s executives said this week.

Anita Janssen, vice president of strategic initiatives for Pure Prairie Farms and one of the people who has been working for more than two years to purchase the property, gave an update to members of the Charles City Area Development Corp. at that group’s meeting Wednesday morning.

She also announced that the company will be holding a “town meeting” on Thursday, March 10, at the county fairgrounds to answer any questions that people in the community have.

And also at the meeting, the CCADC board voted to turn down the offer for a carbon dioxide pipeline easement across the Avenue of the Saints Development Park that the organization owns on South Grand Avenue near the Avenue, with one board member calling the offer “woefully inadequate.”

CCADC Executive Director Tim Fox said Wednesday morning that the Simply Essentials property had been on the group’s monthly meeting agenda ever since the former owners announced in June 2019 that they would be closing the plant that summer, putting more than 500 people out of work.

“We think they’ve assembled a very competent management team with sufficient experience in the northern United States on how to process birds,” Fox said about the new company.

Janssen, attending the meeting remotely, said, “We’re a varied group, but at the same time we come from a lot of farm experience and come from a lot of poultry experience.”

She said a large part of the management team is former senior management from Gold’n Plump chicken of St. Cloud, Minnesota.

“So we’re really proud of that,” she said. “Gold’n Plump is a very visions-driven company, and we continue that. We’re very excited to be a part of the Charles City community.”

Fox said he and city officials had met with the Pure Prairie Farms management team.

“One of the things that I came away impressed with was they realize they can’t be successful unless they treat their employees respectfully and fairly – and that wasn’t always the case under the previous administration,” Fox said.

“I just wanted to commend them for their forward-thinking behaviors, and I am very confident that they will be able to assemble a competent workforce,” he said.

CCADC board member Randy Heitz asked Janssen if they had barns lined up already, meaning did they have chicken producers lined up.

“We do,” Janssen said. “We have the grower network in place already. We have enough growers to fill the entire first shift, and there’s a lot of interest beyond. We have a lot of grower interest to satisfy beyond first shaft as well.”

Former growers for Simply Essentials had filed a petition to force Simply Essentials into bankruptcy after it closed, saying they had not been paid for chickens they had supplied. Some of the former Simply Essentials growers are part of the team behind Pure Prairie Farms.

“The growers have formed a legal entity, and all of the farmers that are going to be growing for the plant will be a part of that entity,” Janssen told the Press previously.

“That entity is invested in the company and has a seat on the board with all the other investors. We’re very excited about the farmers having that stake. They’re a very valued group of stakeholders and investors to us, and we believe that’s going to have a strong roll in our ongoing success,” she had said when the purchase of the facility was announced in December.

Wednesday morning, Janssen said, “The growers are ready. We’re looking forward to getting chicks down as soon as possible. We have a board meeting next week where we have some out-of-town board members coming in and we are going to be reviewing our project timelines. … We’ll be able to announce firmer timeframes after next week’s board meeting, but we’re pushing hard to get up and running.”

Janssen also touched on an expansion plan that had been mentioned at a recent City Council meeting.

The company wants to take over Main Street in front of the plant so the company can expand toward the street. The facility is bordered by railroad tracks in every other direction.

“We’re looking at expanding out the front and adding a distribution center and also adding a new dedicated employee entrance and a new employee welfare space,” she said.

“There was not a great space for employees to be comfortable in the current plant, and so being able to get desirable, refreshing space for them to take breaks and whatnot is an important part of this as well,” she said.

Janssen said the expansion isn’t necessary to get the plant open, and would be done while the plant is operating, with a goal of having it finished by the end of the year.

Regarding the town meeting she had mentioned, Janssen said, “We know there are a lot of people who have a lot of questions and thoughts and just want to hear from us. One of our values is to be very transparent throughout the community and with growers and with employees.”

The town meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 10, at the Youth Enrichment Center at the fairgrounds.

“We’ll have a brief presentation, probably a 20-minute presentation, and then really have it opened up for questions and answers,” Janssen said.

She said they would have resources there for people who are interested in jobs, but it wasn’t really a jobs fair.

“We’re not quite ready for that yet. But it is a place where if people in the community have questions and want to meet those of us that are involved, we’re looking forward to meeting them,” she said.

Janssen said she and other members of the management team had been spending a lot of time in Charles City, and she wanted to thank the community for the “very warm welcome” they had received.

“It is just a really delightful, lovely community, and we have felt so incredibly welcomed. Everybody has been so positive and with offers for, ‘What can we do to help?’” she said. “ We just feel like everybody’s very enthusiastic and very invested in our success, and that’s been phenomenal.”

Also at the Area Development Corp. meeting, the board:

  • Voted to not accept the payment offered by Summit Carbon Solutions for a 50-foot easement across the northern boundary of the Avenue of the Saints Development Park. The company had agreed to move the proposed pipeline farther north, close to the boundary of the property and near an existing Northern Natural Gas Co. pipeline, but members said the offer for the easement was not sufficient to compensate for the likely reduced value of the state-certified development site.

Some board members suggested that Summit should purchase the land it wanted to use rather than get an easement.

Board member Bill Kyle called the easement offer “woefully inadequate” based on the retail value of the development property.

  • Reminded everyone to vote in the special elections on continuing the local option sales tax in Charles City and in the rural areas of the county, either on or before the election date. Tuesday, March 1.
  • Agreed to donate $10,000 from the organization’s capital fund toward the effort to raise funds for a “career academy” project partnering the Charles City School District and North Iowa Area ​​Community College. The careers training center would be located at the fairgrounds and would be used by seven area high schools including Charles City.

Board member Emily Garden made the motion for the donation. She noted that the board had donated $10,000 to TLC: The Learning Center for that group’s campaign to move to larger space, and quipped that it showed the organization was interested in the success of kids of all ages.

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