There’s nothing cheesy about Kansas’ booming food processing industry, unless you count two recently announced cheese production facilities that will add nearly 300 new jobs to the sector. They’ll join about 103,000 others working in food- and beverage-related facilities in the state. That’s 7.4% of the workforce. Food processing accounts for more than a fifth of Kansas’ manufacturing industry, and it contributes more than $5 billion to its economy.
Dairy is among the top agriculture-based commodities produced in Kansas, and the two new cheese facilities will keep that momentum on track. In May 2021, Hilmar Cheese Company announced plans to build a major production facility in Dodge City, in Southwest Kansas. The new $460 million investment will create 247 new full-time jobs, with plans for further expansion in the future. Governor Laura Kelly said the location is “perfect because of its proximity to high-quality producers and a top-notch workforce. It’s great to see another major food manufacturer recognizing the benefits of locating in Kansas.”
Hilmar Cheese Company is one of the world’s largest producers of high-quality cheese and whey products and is the latest prominent food manufacturer in a long line of such companies investing in Kansas since January 2019, along with Schwan’s Company, Pretzels LLC, Empirical Foods and others.
“Dodge City gives us many opportunities including a local and skilled labor force, a supportive and expanding agricultural region, and an excellent transportation network that allows us to easily reach our expanding markets,” said CEO and President of Hilmar Cheese Company David Ahlem. “We’re really happy with our decision and excited about becoming a part of this outstanding community.”
Milk Supply Is a Location Factor
In June, Kansas Dairy Ingredients (KDI) Cheese Company said it will expand its operations in Southwest Kansas, too, creating 40 new jobs and investing $45 million in Hugoton. The facility will produce American-style, Italian-style, Hispanic-style Cheese and European-style cheese and butter.
“Kansas Dairy Ingredients is a great asset to our community,” said Hugoton Mayor Jack Rowden. “KDI has been providing good jobs in Hugoton since they came here in 2013. KDI continues to expand their operation and with the new expansion will be providing 40 new job opportunities for our citizens. Hugoton and Stevens County are very fortunate to have Kansas Dairy Ingredients in our community.”
A major factor in the decision to expand in Hugoton was the high-quality local milk supply, according to Tim Gomez, CEO of KDI Cheese Company, said. “The local dairy community has invested greatly into Kansas for many years, and they have supported KDI since day one. We now have an opportunity to give that support back by providing a secure, long-term home for their milk. We started construction in December of 2020 and are on target to receive milk in October of 2021. We have already added several positions to facilitate our training, thus minimizing the commissioning time once construction is complete.”
Also in June, Wichita-based Bev-Hub announced it is investing more than $28 million in Manhattan to renovate a former brewery to meet manufacturing demands, creating 37 new jobs. The company assists beverage manufacturers through the co-packing process.
Services include processing and testing beverages, canning, labeling, shipping and storage. Products handled include nitro cold brew, still cold brew, nitro cold brew lattes, cold brew lattes, tea and water. According to the company, the talent pipeline resulting from Kansas State University’s strengths in food science and safety was a key component in Manhattan’s selection.
Pets Are People, Too
Hill’s Pet Nutrition is expanding its footprint in the Kansas City metro with recently announced plans to build a new pet food manufacturing plant in Tonganoxie. It will invest more than $250 million to construct a new 300,000-square-foot facility, bringing at least 80 new jobs to the community by 2025. The company says Tonganoxie was selected for this investment based on the location’s industrial park, strong community partnerships, workforce strengths and proximity to distribution requirements for the facility.
It also noted the benefits of doing business in Kansas as part of the KC Animal Health Corridor, home to more than 300 animal health companies, representing the largest such concentration in the world. The KC Animal Health Corridor now accounts for 56% of total worldwide animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales.
“Hill’s Pet Nutrition is excited to be growing our roots in Kansas,” said Jesper Nordengaard, president of Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “We’ve been part of the community for almost 80 years, and this new facility will help us to meet our mission of enriching and lengthening the special relationships between people and their pets by providing our high quality nutrition.” Plans for the new plant call for a state-of-the-art version of Hill’s Topeka plant, the only other Hill’s plant in the world producing canned pet food.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.