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At the pinnacle of production

This news story was published on January 29, 2012.
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Rex L. Troute, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

FORT MADISON – The ribbon-cutting Friday was a celebration of progress.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, local dignitaries and Pinnacle Foods representatives were on hand to praise a 17,000-foot expansion and the 65 jobs it created.

“We are proud of the investment you have made here,” Branstad told Pinnacle’s representatives. “Congratulations.”

Pinnacle Foods’ closure of a Nalley’s Fine Foods facility in Tacoma, Wash., was Fort Madison’s gain. The company invested $20 million to expand the plant south of Fort Madison and fill it with new equipment.

“We at Pinnacle are proud of the team here in Fort Madison,” said David Socolow, Pinnacle’s vice president of corporate affairs. “Our growth as a company has been driven by growth of existing business.”

The Mountain Lakes, N.J., company bought Armour six years ago, which included the Fort Madison plant. In 2009, it acquired Bird’s Eye in a $1.3 billion acquistion, growing 60 percent in the process. Among Pinnacle’s other name brands are Duncan Hines, Vlasic, Log Cabin, Swanson and Mrs. Paul’s.

“The Fort Madison plant is a key part of Pinnacle’s strategy,” Socolow said. “We thank the many leaders in Iowa for making this happen.”

His thanks were extended to Branstad, Reynolds, Fort Madison Mayor Steve Ireland, the Iowa Economic Development Office, local economic development groups and other local dignitaries. He credited the state’s Enterprise Zone program, its Targeted Jobs Withholding Tax Credit program and federal New Markets Tax Credits for making the project possible. The company received $6.16 million from the Enterprise Zone program and $1.99 million from the Targeted Jobs Withholding Tax Credit program.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a lot of local people,” said Bryan Langerud, senior director and plant manager of the Fort Madison facility.

“They are a valuable employer in the Fort Madison economy,” Ireland said. “It’s definitely been a public/private partnership. This is how jobs are created.”

The expansion increased the production capacity of the Armour plant by 25 percent. The plant will celebrate its 40th anniversary in September. When built in 1972, it was considered the world’s largest canning facility, Langerud said.

The Fort Madison plant produces 300 different items, of which 80 came from the Tacoma facility. The new products include Nalley’s chili, stews, hash and soups. The expanded area of the plant went online Oct. 5, and the first product made was chili.

Nalley-brand chili was being made during the tour Friday. Langerud said the process includes grinding meat and braising it before it goes into big kettles where spices and ingredients are added. The mixture then goes into cans where beans are placed on top before being sealed. Conveyors take it to the cookers where it cooks for two hours, then conveyors move it to the labeling and cartoning stages.

The plant can pump out 1.4 million cans of Vienna sausages in a day and 3 million cans of product a day overall. The highly automated plant can produce 1,400 to 1,500 cans per minute. The facility also uses about 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of water per day. Twenty products can be made in a day’s time, which might include different can sizes of the same product.

Pinnacle also makes private-label products for such companies as Wal-Mart and Steak ‘n Shake.

The additional jobs brings the Pinnacle plant’s employment level to 535 employees. The plant operates with three shifts but runs product for 44 straight hours before shutting down for four hours of maintenance and cleanup. In a year’s time, the plant can produce on 25 to 30 Saturdays.

In Branstad’s remarks, he emphasized his four-point jobs and careers plan of action, which he mentioned in his Condition of the State address Jan. 10. One aspect is to attract new businesses and careers to the state through the High Quality Jobs Program instituted by the new Iowa Economic Development Authority. Branstad said the program has proven successful with a documented $2 return on investment in new tax revenue for every $1 invested.

The governor also wants to see small businesses that supply key components to Iowa’s strong manufacturing sector to grow their facilities and create new jobs in Iowa.

“Pinnacle Foods is a great example of supply chain success,” Branstad said.

He also wants to see the commercial property tax rate – the second highest in the country – lowered. Overall, Branstad was upbeat about the direction Iowa is headed.

“I believe Iowa is on the verge of great economic development growth,” Branstad said.

At the end of the tour, everyone was treated to a lunch of chili made on site.

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