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Progress 2013: In weak economy, Pettis County businesses are doing better than average

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Pettis County continues to lead the way out of the economic turmoil of the last few years, with higher growth and lower unemployment than most Missouri communities.


“We have been very fortunate with our economic development and I think it’s because we work so strongly with our existing companies to help them to grow and maintain,” said Linda Christle, executive director of Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County. “In 2012, in comparison to what hit nationwide and even the state of Missouri, we had an excellent year.”


Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County had seven different company announcements in 2012. Most of them pertained to expansions and an increase in jobs.


Tyson announced the biggest expansion of 2012 with a proposed $44 million project and the creation of 200 new jobs.


Meanwhile, Gardner-Denver relocated the IPGA division from Quincy, Ill., to Sedalia. They proposed an $8 million expansion and the creation of 30 new jobs.


Sierra Bullets announced in April 2012 a $1 million project that included a 20,000-square-foot expansion and 10 new jobs. However, by the time of the announcement, they had already created 17 new jobs.


Starline Brass announced a $1.4 million expansion with a 15,000 square foot expansion of its facility and the creation of 10 jobs.


DeLong’s $1.5 million expansion included a new 12,320-square-foot facility and 20 jobs.


“DeLong’s was literally going door-to-door and finding their property so that they could expand here — it’s pretty much doubled the size of their employment base,” Christle said.


In November 2011, Wire-Co. announced it was moving its distribution center from Hahira, Ga., to Sedalia. This $2.35 million project included a 52,000-square-foot expansion and 12 new jobs.


Meanwhile, Derksen Buildings Manufacturing relocated to Sedalia and moved into the former Little Bit Building. It added 7,500 square feet to the existing facility and created seven new jobs.


In December 2012, Gary McMullin purchased Viebrock Sales & Service, keeping that company open and in business. This was a $320,000 investment and it created four new jobs.


“We’re very thankful they’ve consolidated here and they’ve chosen to expand here,” Christle said. “I really think the key to Sedalia and Pettis County is the fact that we work together as a team.”


Economic Development stays in close contact with the existing companies to make sure their needs are met. It focuses on manufacturing, warehouse distribution, logistics, technology and green energy. Twenty-eight percent of the labor force in Pettis County works at one of these companies. Nationwide, the amount of people who work in manufacturing is 11 percent.


“Our unemployment rate is below the state of Missouri and below the United States. Our average wage continues to grow. It’s grown every single year. I think $30,685 is the average wage now. Of course, that includes everybody. That comes from the Missouri Department of Revenue,” said Christle.


Companies are working together to define what needs should be addressed locally. At a manufacturers roundtable, plant managers discovered several of them were in desperate need of welders. Economic Development put them in contact with State Fair Community College.


“They started working together and they’re doing some innovative things to try to get that employee base built up so those manufacturers can have those employees here,” Christle said. That is a plus for not only the manufacturers, but the college as well. Now students can look locally for a job instead of having to move to another community.


“We hope that by adding to the manufacturing base and keeping that growing that that in turn will create a demand for retail and service businesses. That’s where we’re seeing the growth come from,” said Christle.


Some things that draw businesses to Sedalia are the new Smith-Cotton High School, the Missouri State Fair and the fact that Sedalia is so close to U.S. Highways 50 and 65 and U.S. Interstate 70. Meanwhile, the Sedalia Regional Airport has become a big draw. Prospects who are looking at Sedalia as a place to build their business can now fly directly into town.


Christle believes the progress in Sedalia and Pettis County will continue.


“We look at the counties and the states around us and we’re in really in good shape,” she said.


She noted how the city and county have been working together to meet challenges whether they be to build a bridge, a fire station, an ambulance district or a new school. She also gives the industries credit for making Sedalia a great place to life.


“All of the companies give so much back to the community and to the area. We are so proud of all of them,” she said. “Obviously, we wouldn’t have the service businesses and the smaller industries, if we didn’t have the large industries. There’s really nothing more enjoyable than seeing a company who puts their heart into something and sees something from the fruit of their work.”


Here’s a closer look at two of the thriving businesses:


SIERRA BULLETS


Sierra Bullets came to Sedalia in 1990.


“What brought us here was the climate for doing business, what keeps us here is the people. We have good, honest, hard-working people here,” said Pat Daly, president of Sierra Bullets.


While a lot of manufacturing plants have taken a hit during the recession, business is booming at Sierra — a company that specializes in making long-range, high-accuracy projectiles.


“We are fortunate to be in an industry that is running counter to this downturn,” Daly said. “Since really 2005 to 2006, our industry has been growing. In 2009, it took a very steep trajectory with the election of President Obama and probably some other external factors, but the shooting and hunting industry grew.”


Now Sierra Bullets is working hard to keep up with the demand.


“With unprecedented growth in the industry, it was time for us to expand. We’ve had a good deal of growth in sales. We think we’re taking market share because of our ability to supply,” he said.


In 2012, it added 40 percent more physical space and 20 percent more machine capacity.  


“We actually spent about $2.4 million. The building itself was around $1 million and all total with the equipment was about $2.4,” he said. “It makes it very difficult to supply everybody and make sure everybody is happy and getting what they need. We can’t keep up now even with the excess capacity that we built. In the long term, it’s already looking like we may need to do something else. At least we have the physical space to do it now.”


Daly believes one of the reasons the company is so successful is because of the employees.


“I personally try to know everybody in the plant. We have great longevity with people that stay with us for a long time. I think that’s a measure of how we are doing and how moral is,” he said.


Right now the company has 150 employees.


TYSON FOODS


More people are opting to buy their chicken at the grocery store instead of going to a restaurant. This increase in demand has been beneficial to Tyson Foods, which announced the biggest proposed expansion in 2012. Improvements started at the feed mill.


“An entire new tower was added for finished feed storage and the guts inside of it were all changed out,” said Alan Johnston, Sedalia complex manager. “Everything got newer, bigger, better and faster. Feed production is where we need it.”


One of the reasons Sedalia is so attractive to Tyson is because there are so many cornfields are nearby.


“We spent about $45 million to our local farmers around here in purchasing their corn alone,” said Kevin Gibbs, live production manager at Tyson. “We bought about 6 million bushels of corn last year and that will go up about 25 percent this year because of the number of birds going up.”


The corn and soy meal at the mill are then taken to chicken houses located on family farms in seven neighboring counties. Eighty percent of those farms are in Benton, Pettis and Morgan counties.


“Most of our expansion comes from existing growers,” said Chuck Yarbrough, Tyson Complex human resources director. “Our farmers do a great job performing and we’re very blessed for what they do for us.”


“We’ve built somewhere around 110 to 130 total new chicken houses,” said Johnston.


Each of those houses hold about 25,000 birds.


Before the expansion began, Johnston said the company slaughtered about 92,000 head a week. It has now increased that number to 1.1 million a week and hopes to hit 1.25 million sometime in August, if things go as planned.


Once the birds are brought to the processing plant, employees do a full deboning of the front half of the bird.


“We’ll make 3.5 million pounds on that side of our business — market-ready product — per week,” Johnston said. “Part of our expansion is now we debone thighs. People are much more apt to buy a skinless, deboned thigh. That’s a huge business for us right now.”


Those thighs can be grilled or may be purchased as fully-cooked thigh filets that are marinated in different sauces like teriyaki, barbecue or roasted garlic.


With the increase of slaughtered chickens in a week, the number of new employees has climbed. Yarbrough said since the summer of 2012 between 125 to 130 people have been hired. He expects that number to grow as the company works toward its 1.25 million head goal.


“We wouldn’t be doing the expansion that we have today if our team members weren’t able to help us accomplish what we need to get done,” Yarbrough said.


Johnston echoed that with: “The 1,400 people at the plant are trying to make sure the quality is consistent and it looks like the picture on the bag.”


Johnston foresees with the demand for breaded and fully cooked items will continue to increase and that’s good news for Sedalia.


“I think five years down the road, there’s probably really good potential that 1.25 million chickens a week in Sedalia is not enough because of the economic advantage we have in this area from the grain processing. Two and a half million might be the new number,” Johnston said.




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