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Plans unveiled for packing plant in western Nebraska

NORTH PLATTE, NE (AP) — Plans have been unveiled for a nearly $300 million beef packing plant that would employ 875 people in a western Nebraska community of around 25,000 residents.

David Briggs, CEO of both Alliance-based cooperative Western Cooperative Company (WESTCO) and the packing company, Sustainable Beef LLC, said that the North Platte plant would process 400,000 head of cattle a year, (around 1,500 per day) The North Platte Telegraph reports.

North Platte leaders and western Nebraska cattle interests unveiled plans for a nearly $300 million beef processing plant on a former sewer lagoon just south of the city’s Newberry Access wastewater treatment plant. (Photo North Platte Telegraph)

Mayor Brandon cheered the project, urging residents to “focus on the facts” and attend or listen to city meetings as officials consider whether to see the project through.

Briggs and McPherson County rancher Rusty Kemp, another firm co-organizer, said last spring’s pandemic-related supply shortages — on the heels of an August 2019 fire that disabled a major Kansas beef plant — helped spark their project.

“We’re not looking to take on the Big Four packers,” he said. “But there’s a lot of room to operate between a 5,000-head-a-day plant and your local butcher.”

Sustainable Beef’s plant would be one of the few sizable ones built in the U.S. in half a century, Briggs said. The firm has been organized on a “modified cooperative” model with cattle producers who subscribe their beef for slaughter in North Platte also receiving profits from their sale. About 30% of its production would be sold internationally.

Some 75% of the $280 million of needed capital has been committed, and enough cattle suppliers are committed for the one shift now planned, with room for another 100,000 head a year.

Five former top employees of Cargill Inc.’s beef plants also are among Sustainable Beef’s backers and advisers, Briggs added.

According to plans, the plant will open in 2023 and operate with one daytime shift. The average worker will earn about $50,000 a year, CEO David Briggs said.

Briggs serves as CEO of WESTCO that sells fuel, agronomy and bean marketing services throughout Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota. WESTCO handles 40 percent of the global Great Northern bean supply. The agricultural cooperative also owns convenience stores, home heat and tire repair centers.

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